Ram Balak Singh
Sixty-two years have passed since Nepal signed the ‘United Nations Declaration on Human Rights’ in 1948 followed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Nepal joined the World Declaration on Education for All held in 1990 in Thailand that committed to achieve universal access to primary education and meet the learning needs of all people, no matter where they live, by 2000. In April 2000, Nepal was one of 164 countries at the World Education Forum in Senegal to adopt the Dakar Framework of Action for achieving the goals of Education for All (EFA) by 2015. To this direction, it prepared the Education for All National Plan of Action 2001-2015 and based on this the EFA Program 2004-2009 was implemented and the implementation of the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP) 2009-1015 has begun with the assistance of a consortium of development partners.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 in its fundamental rights states that each community shall have the right to get basic education in their mother tongue and every citizen shall have the right to free education from the State up to secondary level as provided for in the law.
Despite this, the introduction of free and compulsory primary/basic education has still remained unfulfilled. Compulsory education defines the number of years that children and adolescents are legally obliged to attend school. While making constitutional provision and enacting legislation of compulsory education, it does not necessarily ensure that all children, youth and adolescents will have an acceptable quality of education. However, it does provide an important enabling condition and an intention by the State to provide equal opportunity to education for all, with clear commitment and provisions for the disadvantaged and marginalized. Looking at the educational development in Nepal, one can argue that it has made significant progress in many aspects of education such as literacy and primary education by quoting facts and figures. However, it is clear that this achievement is most uneven and, given the trends, it can be concluded that Nepal is not on the track to achieve the goals of EFA. Herein, the progress and possibility of achieving the targets is being examined.
Nepal Labour Force Survey 2008 puts literacy achievement in Nepal at 56 per cent (male 71 per cent and female 43 per cent). Applying this increase rate, Nepal will be far behind achieving the target of 75 per cent adult literacy rate in 2015. This situation is aggravated when we analyze the disparity between the lower and upper consumption quintiles by using data from the Nepal Living Standards Survey 2003-4 which reveals that while the literacy rate for the richest consumption quintile was 72 per cent, it was only 23 per cent for the poorest quintile. The difference is most serious for women as only 12 per cent women in the poorest quintile were literate compared to their 59 per cent counterparts in the richest quintile. Similarly, geographical disparity is most eye-catching: in 2001 the literacy rate for Kathmandu was 74 per cent while it was only 20 per cent for Humla (female 5 per cent only).
Generally, policy makers tend to believe that the primary education net enrollment ratio of 94 per cent in the school year 2009-10, with a gender parity index of 0.98 (Flash Report 1, 2009-10, DOE), is noteworthy towards achieving universal primary education in Nepal. However, using the data from the NLSS 2004, it is disappointing to note that only 51 per cent children (girls 42 per cent only) in the official age group 5-9 years were enrolled in primary schools from the poorest households compared to 87 per cent from the richest households. In the case of secondary education, the NER for the poorest quintiles was only 2% against 35% from the richest quintiles.
A more informative definition of UPE is the completion of a good quality primary education by all. Looking from this perspective, the analysis of the internal efficiency of school education shows that not all children enrolled in grade one reach and complete primary education within the specified time. In 2008-09, out of 4.5 million children enrolled in primary education, about a million didn’t appear in the final school examinations. An analysis of grade-wise enrollment and nationwide grade progression rates reveals that in 2009-10, only 45 per cent, 38 per cent, 28 per cent and 9 per cent children were able to reach grades 5, 8, 10 and 12 respectively compared to their base year of enrollment five, eight, ten and twelve years ago.
The above examination reveals a disturbing picture. From a positive perspective, it shows the magnitude of the task Nepal is facing in order to ensure universal literacy and primary education for all. It gives a clear message that unless specifically targeted programmes with adequate funding and clear accountability and monitoring mechanisms are designed and implemented for the poorest households, it will not be possible to ensure universal literacy and universal primary education, especially for the disadvantaged and marginalized.