The government needs to allocate more funding towards the education sector
May 23, 2019-
A recent report has highlighted the ‘remarkable progress’ South Asia, including Nepal, has achieved in the past two decades in increasing school enrolment. Indeed, our own government’s statistics show a whopping 97 percent enrolment rate in the first grade—meaning that only 90,000 kids have been left out of school. While this figure, if verifiable, should be commended as a good first step in the right direction, much remains to be done to retain the students till their completion of secondary school, and in improving the quality of education.
Nepal’s drive to have a 100 percent enrolment rate in primary schools is understandable. While the hope of having each of its citizens educated is probably the aim of every country, in Nepal it is a constitutional mandate. Article 30 (2) of the constitution gives every citizen the right to free, and compulsory, education up to the basic level (till grade 8) and free education up to the secondary level (grade 12) from the state. And while the constitutional provisions may be legally binding, the ground realities aren’t just there yet.
To begin with, enrolment rates may not be the best metric to judge the state of education in Nepal. In recent years, enrolment drives have become publicity vehicles for the government. The prime minister and several ministers have been known to take the ‘guardianship’ of some children in PR campaigns during grand launches of such enrolment drives. However, experts in the education sector doubt if the thousands of new students claimed to have been enrolled every year actually end up in classrooms. Since many poor and marginalised families rely on their children as a source of supplementary income, the immediate opportunity costs associated make the families reluctant to let these kids attend schools. The problem is complex, and simply running a drive without attempting to solve the underlying causes of low enrolment seems pointless.
The other problem here is the quality of education received. Studies conducted by the Education Review Office, which falls under the Ministry of Education, show that students do not even grasp half of what they are meant to learn in a particular grade. And according to Unicef’s regional education specialist, ‘only 34 percent of children of school-going age will learn minimum secondary level skills in 2030’ and that around 27 percent will not even have learnt the minimum primary level by that time. This just goes to show the mountain of obstacles the country has to overcome. And the government’s activities have not been very promising.
To improve retention and quality, the government must provide more funds to the education sector. The global practice has been to allocate at least 20 percent of the national budget on education. This is especially important here, due to Nepal’s lofty goal of providing free education to all up to grade 12. Yet, despite numerous assurances and promises of allocating as much, the government has failed to do so. This year, the allocation is estimated to shrink to less than 10 percent of the total budget—the lowest in more than a decade—severely limiting the focus on improving education quality. If the government is to fulfil its campaign promises of focusing on development, and comply with the provisions of the constitution, it cannot continue to underfund the education sector.
Published: 24-05-2019 07:00