The root of all solutions
In the recent years, there has been significant improvement in the number of people who have access to education in Nepal: primary, secondary and higher education. But the 21st century Nepal is still grappling with the question of whether or not people have access to education as we struggle to move the conversation forward to question whether or not people have access to quality education.
The outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley and wider Nepal are filled with sights of children clad in school dresses who are walking or cycling to school, making for a hopeful sight. CIA’s World Fact book indicates that 63.9% of the country’s population is literate according to data from 2015.
UNESCO’s 2010/11 report on World Data on Education writes that the gross enrollment ratio for children in primary schools was 66.2% in 2005. The same report cites that the gross enrollment ratio was estimated at 14.5% for secondary school in the same year. The fact that the building bricks to development are in the process of being laid is a good sign. However, the road ahead remains a long and challenging one – more so if we are to expand the discourse to include “quality.”
The southern belt of the Mid-Western Development Region that borders India is one area where a first glance may be deceptive: at the first glance, you will see that there are provisions for basic education in place and that majority of the children do go to schools. However, if you dig deeper then you realize the nuanced situation that is a reality for the region. Owing to the remote geography and inherent difficulties of the place, many villages in the region do not have schools beyond grade eight in their vicinity. This may mean that children will need to walk or cycle for hours in a day just to be able to go to a school.
Where education falls very low on the priority list, not having schools in the area only serves to discourage parents (who may have been very hard to convince in the first place) to send their daughters or sons to school. In the Mid-Western Region in Nepal, like marriage is a reality for young girls, the pressure to earn a livelihood preferably in India is a reality for many a young boys. Therefore investment in education is hardly a preferred option as the ability to early a daily wage weighs in heavily on the parents decision to pull their children out of school. In the trade-off between short term gains and long term, the former always seems to win.
At the root of the problem is, of course, poverty. And not having schools that may potentially hold the solutions to the root problem will only aggravate the issue. Even in cases where a child may be enrolled in school, the lack of provisions to monitor school attendance distorts the information that we receive on the educational attainment of the country. Most of the people in remote Mid-West will commit to sending their children, their sisters, their brothers to school if you sit down with them and try to encourage them to do so for long enough – persistence is key.
However, without appropriate mechanisms to ensure that the child, the sister, the brother is continuing school after being enrolled in them, the same people will just as easily put other things before education for the younger generation. I have had countless discussions with numerous adolescents who have been pulled out of school or asked to stay home to look after cattle, or to look after their younger sibling, or because adolescent girls are on their period. Moreover for an agrarian country, seemingly routine things like planting and harvesting season may also have a dire consequence on the school attendance.This means that the dropout rate for adolescent boys and adolescent girls as they move from primary school to secondary school increases sharply.
In cases where a child fights all odds and manages to cycle or walk to a school three or more hours away from the house, and frees herself/ himself from all household obligations to tend to educational priorities, the quality of education they may receive is still bothersome. With schools that do not have teachers who attend classes regularly themselves, trying to ensure that they motivate the students to come to the schools is a far-fetched reality. The quality of education becomes an issue of concern not only at the primary and secondary education level, but also for higher degrees and onto college.
With formal education courses in higher education resembling open universities, the provision to be able to sit for an exam without actually having to attend a day’s worth of class is appalling. This lax and laid back system then takes a serious toll in the employment sector where mediocrity seems to be a reality in all fields of work. The fact that it is not necessary to physically attend classes to be enrolled in them to get a certified degree seriously impinges upon quality education and thereby affects the performance of the country.
Therefore in our conversations about ensuring access to education for the younger generation (and also the older generation), we need to keep ‘quality’ at the center of the discourse. Until and unless we are able to critically assess the barriers to education in our country and think of innovative solutions to ensure quality education for the generations to come, education will continue to be something limited to a certificate rather than something that cultures and refines an individual. Until and unless we are able to address the issue of quality in the discourse surrounding education, we will never talk about merit and rightfully earning everything in life.
Basnyat holds an MSc from the University of Oxford and can be reached at