Bridging learning deficitEducationally we have been a terrible under-performer
Providing quality education is among the most important duties of any government. And there have been significant reforms in the secondary education sector in recent years. For example, bringing Nepal’s secondary education sector in line with international practice, Grades 11 and 12 were brought under the regular school sector.
They were previously classified under a separate ‘intermediate’ category. A few months ago, the Curriculum Development Centre took a decision to reform the curricula for Grades 11 and 12. More recently, the government’s Free and Compulsory Education Act came into effect on making the state responsible for ensuring that no child is deprived of school education.
The state’s taking responsibility for ensuring every child has access to school education is appreciable. Granted, providing access is the first step, but for education to be effective, it should have quality too. This is where the government seems to be lacking. According to the new law, local governments have to make sure that every child from five to 12 years of age is enrolled—and receives free education—in public school. Records at the Ministry of Education show that the net enrolment rate for basic education has gone up to 97 percent. Yet, owing to lack of adequate funding and proper policy for quality education, the quality of education has been continually deteriorating. Further, the dropout rate continues to rise too. So while our literacy levels might have improved, educationally we have been a terrible under-performer. As a result, people’s faith in public education at the lower levels is eroding.
Ideally, government schools should be the first, not the last, choice of parents to send their children to. They should have been the drivers of change. But thanks to lack of confidence of people in public education, our education system has not only been broken, it has become a class issue too. Education has become a direct function of people’s financial capital. Meaning, anyone having money is entitled to ‘better’ education. On the other hand, those who can’t afford shiny schools have to make do with government schools strewn with overgrown weeds and covered with leaky roofs where teacher absenteeism and insufficient resources constantly hamstring the students’ ability to learn and gain knowledge.
Quality education is a building block for an inclusive, well-informed and progressive society. Policymakers cannot overlook the fact that early childhood education and primary schooling—-the phases during which the most important cognitive development milestones are attained—are the most crucial years. New approaches to measuring a nation’s productive potential put a premium on education. We too should internalise this so that by ensuring that students get quality education—even in public institutions—over the next few decades, Nepal will be well on its way towards becoming a developed nation sooner than expected.