Understanding the Nepali School System: Past, Present & Future
One of our esteemed clients is a benefactor of a Secondary School in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. So, for the past year, we have been researching the Education System in Nepal in order to find out what areas of the school need the most attention and the ways in which donations can be best used. Simon Patterson, our CEO, went out to Kathmandu Valley in March to visit various schools in the district, meet with teachers and headmasters, and the District Education Officer.
We wanted to find out what type of funding would be useful in schools in the Kathmandu Valley, and how these funds could best be used by the schools. But we also wanted to delve deeper, to understand the underlying issues that surround the education system in Nepal, and to look at where the school system is at now, and moving to in the future.
The education system in Nepal turns out to be an extremely complex issue; social divisions, inequality, and political motivations are all being combated in order to provide equal and quality ‘Education for All’.
Education in Nepal has been a political issue and facilitator of social divisions since the early 1800s, and especially from 1846, where, under Rana rule, education was extended only to the social elite. Due to an agreement with India and Britain, Nepal predominantly traded through these two nations, therefore, English was an incredibly important language to speak. However, only the social elite were able to learn English, thus enabling them to form connections internationally, leaving the rest of the country behind.
After Rana rule collapsed in 1950 education was liberalised, and was finally offered to all. However, due to the Caste structure in Nepal, there were still deep social divides, with higher castes still having access to the prestigious English tuition, and the lower castes, ethnic and religious minorities were again left behind, with poorly funded schools, a severe lack of qualified teachers and a lack of child-friendly environments leading to low enrolment rates and high drop-out rates among these communities. This divide was due to one main factor; private schools charging fees, employing more qualified teachers, and teaching in English. Compared with government schools, private schools had much higher School Leaving Certificate (SLC) pass rates, but more importantly, the students were learning English, something considered to be essential for a successful life.
In 1996, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) propagated a civil war against the government. This greatly affected schools as the Maoist forces became violent against private schools and government schools, while some schools became politically aligned and were used as recruiting grounds for the rebel forces.
In 1990 an international conference for Education For All (EFA) developed an agenda to provide a universal basic education to all children. Nepal adopted the global EFA initiatives and also implemented the Basic & Primary Education Project as a national response to the EFA. From their implementation to their end in 2006, these initiatives went a great way in increasing access to education despite the political difficulties caused by the civil war and engrained social perceptions.
The school system in Nepal has become decentralised, giving more control to the schools and communities rather than the government, allowing schools to cater better to local needs. Schools that are a part of this decentralised system are called Community Schools. These are managed by School Management Committees (SMCs) which are made up of members of the local community, working closely with the Head-teacher and local government officials to improve educational quality and raise funds for the upkeep and development of the school and teachers.
In Nepal there are conflicting ideals of diversity and identity trying to be enforced by an idea of uniformity that actually increases the inequalities experienced by the ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. By decentralising the educational system, diversity is allowed to flourish as Community Schools are able to develop their own curriculum based on the needs of the local community, and some have even developed their own code of conduct. An important development of Community Schools is their ability to teach in ‘mother-tongue’, as there are over 90 living languages in Nepal, but for the past 60 years, education was predominantly in Nepali and/or English.
Today, English remains the most highly regarded educational tool, as it is often a prerequisite for a career at an international donor agency – the gateway for social mobility. However, there is still a split between schools that offer tuition in English and those that do not. Private schools are no longer the only schools to offer English, Public Schools and Community Schools do, but these often require their students to pay extra for the English tuition, creating a gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
Social mobility is a shared aspiration of parents for their children, and is something that is regarded as only possible through an English-medium education and/or education in Nepali, preferably at a private school. ‘Mother-tongue’ education, although hoped to decrease the divisions between localities and minorities, actually increases divisions due to the belief that social mobility and development is only possible though English or Nepali education. Private Schools tap into parents aspirations for their children’s development and future, creating a new ‘caste-structure’ of the affluent and poorer communities.
Community schools have gone a long way in increasing community involvement with the education system, allowing a more integrated ‘local’ education that is more relevant to the community, and also allowing communities to exert control over under-performing teachers. But this also has associated problems as teachers are feeling disengaged and feel a lack of control over their profession, leading to resistance towards decentralisation and Community Schools.
Overall, Nepal has made great progress in reforming its education system, especially if one reminds themselves of the position they were in 65 years ago. They are getting much closer to their original goal of providing a universal education to children in Nepal, especially to previously ignored groups, such as girls and Dalits.
The decentralisation of the education system and the creation of Community Schools is an important factor in providing quality education to all. In the areas where the Community School system works, it works extremely well.
Community Schools need to engage with both the community and teachers, so that the school becomes a centre of shared learning. But also should be of benefit to the community, teachers, and students, which can be achieved via strong leadership.
Teacher morale is extremely important, as they can be the biggest hindrance to, or driving force of,the success of a community school. Schools that engage and involve the teachers with the design of policies, curriculum, codes of conduct, and listen to their requests re: fair salaries, safe working environments, eliminating discrimination, access to training and development, etc. will perform better than schools that do not. Indeed, teacher motivation and involvement in the life of the school appears to be vital in order for them to feel part of the Community.
Nepal is continuing in its fight to provide quality education to all children and to eliminate inequalities. Social barriers need to be knocked down, something that Community Schools have the potential to do as they can combat the discrimination towards ‘mother-tongue’ languages by making them more common in an educational setting. They are also driving towards including more female and minority group teachers, as well as implementing strict standards for teacher qualifications.
NGOs, charities and international aid are still vital in providing schools, communities and individuals with the resources required for an education, and they will play an integral role in the future. But Nepal is beginning to show that it can operate independently of international or charitable aid in the education sector by engaging its communities in the efforts to raise money and develop the education system.
The QRi Team x