One in two Nepalis is under 25 years old. While the western world frets over the concerns of an aging population, Nepal’s future sits in the hands of its youth. Nepal’s young people will be an asset to the country’s economy – that is, if they are not failed by a lack of appropriate education.
A recent report from the United Nations found that 60% of the world’s young people are failing to reach basic levels of proficiency in learning. The research indicates that it is not only access to schools that is disrupting children’s educations, but the quality and nature of the education. For many children in the developing world, access to education is only half the battle. Upon arriving at school, these children could well be faced with overcrowded classrooms, the distractions of ill-health, malnutrition or abuse, and under-qualified or even absent teaching staff.
Child labour and drop-out rates
Indeed, while many charities and donors involved in education focus on building schools, in Nepal lack of physical school buildings is rarely the issue. Most communities in Nepal have a school, and enrolment rates are high – 97% for primary school-age children. However, drop-out rates are also very high: 45% of children drop out of primary school, and one in three won’t ever enrol in secondary school.
There are many factors behind these drop-out rates. A significant one is poverty – 1 in 4 of the poorest children do not attend school. For the parents of many families living in poverty, they need their children to work rather than receive an education. 37% of children between 5 and 14 years old in Nepal are in enforced child labour; for children between the ages of 10 and 14 the rates are even higher – 61%.
This is why, for Kidasha, building schools is not our first port of call when it comes to getting children into education. Instead, we work within the community – helping parents to understand the importance of education, so that they are motivated to send their children to school. We help them to improve their finances through training, financial management classes and small business loans, so that they can afford to send their children to school also.
We also provide children with all the resources necessary from them to succeed at school. This includes books, stationary, uniforms, bags and educational support, such as afterschool homework clubs and social workers they can talk to.
Every year we support about 2,000 children into education.
For example, we when first met Basanta he was 12 years old and working in back-breaking conditions in a sand mine to support his single mother and the rest of his family. Kidasha provided Basanta’s mother with a loan, enabling her to buy her own plot and increase her income, so that the family could survive without the children’s wages. No longer working, Basanta attended one of our targeted two-year bridge courses, bringing him up to speed with the education of his peer group. He was then able to go to school where he stayed until graduated, with Kidasha helping to provide his tuition, uniform, books and stationary.
Six years on, Basanta is now 18 and has graduated school, securing a remarkable 80% in his final exams. He is still studying, as well as working as a receptionist and bookkeeper, to self-fund a qualification in management.
Underfunded schools and absent teachers
Even for the children who have access to schools, there are still many obstacles. Many children are already underprepared before they start school. In Nepal, only 1 in 3 children receive early childhood education; as a result, many children have learning difficulties from the start. Of the children that make it through all 12 years of education, only 36% pass their final exams.
In addition, schools are often underfunded, relying on parents to provide books and other study materials, uniforms and ‘donations’ – these extras are something that many parents simply cannot afford. Underfunding also means that not all teachers are properly trained. On top of this, the average class size is 40 students, with some areas having as many as 80 students in each class. Absenteeism in teachers is another problem with significant consequences.
The deep-rooted caste system in Nepal further complicates matters – many children from disadvantaged communities and castes face discrimination at school. This is only made worse by the fact that only 8% of teachers are from lower caste backgrounds.
There is also a problem with ‘ghost schools’ – a phenomenon where the paperwork is filed for fabricated institutions, with intention of getting money from education budgets for schools that do not actually exist. Those living in villages or small communities are often reluctant to report absent teachers or issues with schools, as they are part of the same community. Even when they are reported, little is done. With many schools being in remote locations, it’s often tough for stretched education officers to check in on these alleged schools and teachers.
Supporting at-risk children
At Kidasha, we work with schools to make sure that teachers are aware of at-risk children, so that they are able to monitor their attendance and performance. They can then discuss this with the child’s social worker if they start to slip, in order that parents and communities are involved with the child’s education. We also work with and monitor teachers to stop discrimination in the classroom and help train teachers and school management committees to increase the level of education they provide.
One child we worked with was Shanti. When Shanti was four, her father was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and her mother could not pay for all the extras required to send her daughter to school. In addition to providing financial support which enabled Shanti to go to school, we also provided ongoing individual and family counselling and helped her father overcome his addictions.
Now Shanti’s parents are both in work and able to independently support her education. Shanti lives in a secure, happy family environment. She and her parents still receive regular visits to check up on the ongoing wellbeing of the family, and ensure that Shanti continues with her education.
The value of community support
In light of the UN report, it is clear that building schools alone is not the answer to the chronic deficiency of education in the developing world.
This is also echoed time and time again in the results we see from the specialised, targeted support that Kidasha provides. In the last year, amongst the children we support, we saw a 100% increase in the number of children from marginalised communities attending school, with an average school attendance rate of 82% and markedly decreased drop-out rate of 3%. 91% of the children passed their end-of-year examinations, and 95% of those taking their final school exams passed.
Tackling the problems with education in Nepal involves in-depth understanding of the cultural, sociological and economic problems that Nepali children face. It requires sensitivity and targeted support, in order to make a sustainable change.
For Nepal’s young population, building schools is simply not enough.