Retaining students in schoolsThe myopic view of prioritising economic relief comes at the cost of increasing dropouts.
Every parent’s wish would be to provide the best for their children. They are primarily concerned with the provision of education. For the average Nepali, opportunity hinges on receiving uninterrupted sound education. Despite making strides in student enrolment, the number of dropouts from primary and secondary schools is a cause for concern. Many families who cannot send their children to private schools rely on public schools. Despite no fees being charged until secondary education, the retention rate until grade 12 stands at a dismal 29.2 percent.
So how does one improve the retention rate in the country? Well, we could start with a comprehensive investment programme to upgrade our public schools. Public school infrastructure is usually bare in most parts of the country. The pandemic was a poignant reminder of how the lack of proper infrastructure or alternative methods affected those in rural Nepal. Although most families lack the economic strength to access devices that would facilitate remote learning, the authorities turned a blind eye to the issue and left many aspiring students in the lurch. Lack of funding also means that public schools cannot compete with private institutions in hiring teachers most suited for their roles. And those who can jump ship would do so gladly at the first opportunity.
And hence there is hardly any incentive for a curious young mind to stay on until primary school, let alone secondary education. Due to low retention rates, the government implemented different programmes such as free mid-day meals, sanitary pads for girls and scholarships. Such programmes are often designed to target those belonging to marginalised communities to stop the ever-increasing rate of dropouts. Despite attempts, it hasn’t helped in improving the situation.
A particular case of the ineffectiveness of mid-day meals in achieving its purpose was highlighted in a report from Myagdi, a district in Gandaki province. The school cannot provide mid-day meals due to lack of space! And the school has now resorted to providing cash instead, and the guardians are handed out the money as per the children’s attendance rate. There is no guarantee that the cash will be fully used to provide a meal for the students as the economically deprived parents may use it for other purposes. The money set aside is a meagre amount, and this practice will only promote the neglect of those unfortunate students who desperately need a nutritious meal.
Although reports cite decreasing retention rates, they do not attempt to disclose the reasons for the dropouts. However, experts believe that the bottom line has always been poverty. Most parents from poorer communities see little value in gaining education, partly because they have little or no education and are pushed by extreme poverty. They tend to mobilise their children to extend support to the family. Hence the myopic view of giving precedence to short-term economic relief often comes at the cost of dropouts for those vulnerable families. In the long run, this vicious cycle has damaging effects for the individual and the nation.