School scholarship funds go unspent while students drop out due to povertyHardly Rs150 million was distributed to the target student groups in the previous fiscal year leaving around Rs700 million unspent.
Seventeen-year-old Bhakta Bahadur Magar of Sitganga Municipality in Arghakhanchi district quit his studies in 2019. He stopped going to school after completing grade 8 because his parents couldn’t afford to pay for his education.
“I quit school and decided to work,” he told the Post over the phone from Ludhiana, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. “I have been working at a hotel for over two years now.”
Magar has eight siblings and none of them has completed school education because of the family’s poor financial background.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to study. It was impossible for me to continue my education because of poverty,” he said.
Nepal has made impressive progress in increasing access to education. The government’s economic survey for the fiscal year 2020-21 shows the net enrolment rate for grade one has increased to 97.3 percent which was 91 percent in the fiscal year 2013-14.
However, the high dropout rate among children remains a huge challenge. The same report unveiled in May shows over two-thirds of the students enrolled in grade one get out of the school system by the time they reach grade 12, which is the final year of school education. The report shows that the retention rate up to grade 12 in the last fiscal year was just 29.2 percent.
The dropout rate increases sharply after the completion of the basic level (up to grade 8). The retention rate till the basic level was 82.2 percent in the previous year which dropped to 64.6 percent at grade 10.
Poverty is a major factor contributing to the high dropout rate, according to experts.
“Although the government claims public school education is free, that is not true. Many schools charge fees in the name of admission,” Binay Kusiyait, a professor at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post.
To support the students from the poorest of the poor communities, the government allocates millions of rupees in scholarship programmes. The government had allocated Rs 850 million in the last fiscal year to provide cash incentives to secondary level students.
“The scholarship is targeted at ensuring equitable access to education, increasing the retention rate and promoting quality education,” reads the economic survey.
However, hardly Rs150 million was distributed to the targeted students in the previous fiscal year leaving around Rs700 million unspent in the government treasury, according to the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, which is tasked with screening the students and releasing the scholarship funds.
“We have to go through a well-set screening and verification process before releasing the money,” Dibya Dawadi, director at centre who looks after the division of inclusive education, told the Post. “The Covid-19 pandemic affected the process.”
She said though the scholarship amount was more than enough, many students from the target groups were deprived of scholarships. Under the scholarship programme, each student in grades 9 and 10 gets Rs6,000 and the amount is Rs24,000 per year for grade 11 and 12 students majoring in Science and Rs 18,000 for those majoring in other subjects.
As per the centre’s records, hardly 7,643 students from grade 9 and 5,145 from grade 10 got the scholarship amounts in the last fiscal year. Similarly, only 517 from grade 12 got the money while not a single student from grade 11 got the scholarship amount.
Against the target of 83,592, only 13,305 benefited from the scheme. Students need to apply for scholarships and the centre releases the money after going through a verification process, which is time-consuming, says Dawadi.
“We are planning to engage the local governments in the verification process so that it is fast and effective,” she said. “We are working to offer scholarships to those students who didn’t get them in the previous fiscal year.”
The government has allocated Rs 850 million for the scholarship programme this year as well.
Besides, the government has also been providing free mid-day lunch in most of the districts, free sanitary pads to around 1.35 million girls, and additional scholarships to the girls and the students from the marginalised communities in an attempt to boost student retention.
But some education experts say announcing such programmes alone is not enough.
“The government has to assess whether the existing programmes are rightly implemented,” said Kusiyait. “The problem is the non-implementation of programmes and policies.”