Pandemic could affect school retention and enrolment ratesGovernment needs to roll out financial packages for marginalised communities so that children can go to school, they say.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has already affected various sectors such as health and economy, could increase the number of children who stay out of the school system, various reports and experts say.
As the pandemic triggers a spike in poverty rates in the country, it is expected to hit the education sector hard, they say.
“In a country where 18.7 percent of the total population is living below the poverty line, the impact of the current pandemic will be enduring,” reads the conclusion of a report on Rapid Assessment of Socio-Economic Impact of Covid-19 in Nepal prepared by UNDP. “Halt in businesses, unpaid hiatus, pay cuts and job losses increase the probability of falling back into poverty,” the report added.
Enrollment and retention numbers, which were already low before the pandemic, are expected to go down further. “My experience tells me that poverty has a direct bearing on high dropout rates and out-of-school rates among children,” said Babu Ram Poudel, former director-general at the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development under the Ministry of education.
Since 2018, the government has been running an annual campaign to bring all the school-age children to the school system. But in the two years, hardly a one percent increment in the number of children going to school has been recorded, despite massive publicity.
“I am certain that the drop-out will increase in the aftermath of Covid-19 if the government does not intervene,” he told the Post.
The government’s economic survey, made public in May, shows that three percent of school-going children are not enrolled in schools despite the enrollment drive.
School dropout rates paint a gloomier picture. Every year thousands of students disappear from the school system. The same survey report shows that 21 percent of students abandon their studies by the time they reach grade eight and the number doubles when they reach grade 10.
Various reports say that poverty, which is expected to engulf more people due to the pandemic, is the main reason why many children are out of the schools and those studying in higher grades are dropping out.
A projection by the World Bank shows the low and middle-income countries like Nepal will see a setback in the education sector due to the Covi. It claims the learning will decline and dropouts will increase, especially among the most disadvantaged. “The crisis will also increase the risk of drop out,” according to the report. “We know from other crises that the longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.”
A projection by UNICEF suggests an additional 120 million children from the South Asian region could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity, and the number of out-of-school children could increase.
Education experts say the government should come up with a financial package to support marginalised communities so that children can go to school. “The government shouldn’t lake education in isolation, it must be linked with the economy mainly for the people from below poverty and marginalised communities,” Poudel told the Post.
For a long time experts have been lobbying for providing money equivalent to the opportunity cost of children going to school. As children from extremely poor communities lend a valuable hand for household chores, sending them to school causes economic losses for the family.
“We have been raising the issue of opportunity cost, but successive governments haven’t listened to me,” said Basudev Kafle, a professor at Tribhuvan University who has carried out research on school education. “If officials still hesitate in introducing programmes for targeted communities, the drop-out and out-0f-school number is certain to increase.”
Kafle said the lack of proper infrastructure in schools too could leave a number of students out of the education system in the post Covid-19 situation. Hundreds of public schools, mainly those running the primary education, are so congested and social distancing is not possible. “Parents won’t risk sending their students to schools where there’s no space to maintain distance between students,” he said. “That’s why the government should also invest in the physical infrastructure of schools.”