Print Edition - 2014-05-11  |  Free the Words

Back to school

  • The government’s school admission campaigns must move beyond token rallies
- DINESH KOIRALA
Back to school

May 10, 2014-As a response to its commitment to Education for All (EFA), the Government of Nepal has been making various efforts to ensure the right to education to its school-going children in partnership with international communities. The school admission campaign is one such programme run by various governmental, non-governmental and community-based organisations with the objective of enrolling school-going age children in school and ensuring retention. This campaign is a response to the second EFA goal internationally agreed to in Dakar—”ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.”

Various activities like mass rallies with plea cards and slogans, mass gatherings, household visits and pamphlet and poster distribution are conducted under this campaign. Many community schools conduct this campaign by holding an annual rally in their catchment area. Some schools also conduct household visits. But have these activities effectively met their goal of bringing children to school and retaining them while providing quality education?

The five percent

According to the Department of Education’s Flash Report 2011-12, the net enrolment rate (NER) for the primary level is 95 percent and promotion, repetition and dropout rates for Grade One are 72, 20 and seven percentages respectively. Moreover, the survival rate up to grade five is 82 percent. This shows the unsavoury condition of Nepal’s basic and primary education and we can easily predict that Nepal will not be able to meet EFA goals by 2015. According to DOE data, five percent of primary school-going age children are not in schools. However, we can question the reliability of such data and research has already proved that schools are inflating their student numbers to get more funds. Still, does the DoE have detailed research-based information of this five percent? Do schools and District Education Offices (DEOs) have a specific master plan to ensure the right to education to out-of-school children? Are school admission campaigns focused on bringing these five percent children to school or are they done only for their own sake?

To answer, the DoE does not have research-based information about this five percent. However, the poorest of the poor, the conflict-affected, disabled, Dalits and severely marginalised children constitute the five percent. The real aim of the school admission campaign should be to find detailed information about these out-of-school children, bring them to school and retain them by providing education of good quality. Can an hour’s rally with plea cards and slogans to please donors bring such children to school? It has been a yearly ritual of schools to conduct admission campaigns to report to the DEO but these campaigns should focus on householdvisits to such children, find out the reasons for them being out-of-school and bring them to school by responding to their problems.

Concerted campaigns

If we cannot retain such children in school, there is no value in bringing them in for a couple of days. For this, each school needs to make a case study of each out-of- school child, find out their reason for staying out-of-school and address the problem. However, schools might respond that with less resources, limited number of teachers, lack of physical infrastructure and limited pedagogic materials, they might not be able to conduct such activities.

Furthermore, school teachers might opine that children from mostly poor households are deprived of the right to education. In my opinion, this is not the sole reason for them staying out-of-school. There are out of school children whose economic condition is better than that of the many school-going children. Proper coordination at the local level can be another tool to make such campaigns effective. There are many NGOs and community organisations working in the education sector but their activities are not coordinated with each other and with schools. If coordinated in a better way, they can bring in many out-of- school children and retain them.

Utilising teacher skills

Schools need to conduct admission campaigns throughout the year, not only at the beginning of the school year. Schools should also immediately conduct household visits and respond to children’s problems immediately. Moreover, such campaigns should reflect both competencies and practical skills of teachers, since 94 percent of primary school teachers at community schools are fully trained in research and other issues like child rights, creating a child-friendly environment, community participation and counseling. Interventions have no meaning if they do not reflect the skills of teachers. Campaigns cannot be realistic if they do not bring the real out-of-school children to school. Thus, the focus of concerned stakeholders should be on bringing such children to school through coordinated campaigns instead of conducting campaigns only for publicity’s sake and satisfying the chain of command.

Koirala holds an M. Phil in Comparative and International Education from the University of Oslo, Norway

Published: 11-05-2014 07:59

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