Free education, midday meal keeping students in schoolsDespite the constitution’s pledge, government schools in Nepal fail to guarantee free education, forcing students from poor backgrounds to drop out.
Bishakha Bhandari, a 17-year-old girl from Ward 4 of Tripurasundari Rural Municipality, is a grade 9 student at the Mangalamai Secondary School in the same ward. She comes from a working-class family with poor economic conditions.
The teenager lost her father three years ago leaving behind his wife and three children in more financial difficulties.
She wanted to sit for the competitive examinations for government service but her family’s unstable financial situation has forced her to consider quitting her studies altogether.
“My family was struggling to pay the school fees and related school expenses,” said Bhandari. “So I thought of leaving school and helping my family by doing menial jobs.”
While the constitution ensures free and compulsory education, government schools in Nepal fail to guarantee free education forcing young students from poor backgrounds like Bhandari to quit school.
However, Tripurasundari Rural Municipality in Sindhupalchok has implemented policies that guarantee free education to students up to grade 12 from the fiscal year 2023-24. The rural municipality also provides free midday meals to students up to grade 8.
The rural municipality became a benefactor for the local children encouraging students like Bhandari to continue their studies.
“I dropped my decision to quit school. Now that I don’t have to worry about the expenses, I can focus on my studies and work towards my goal,” said Bhandari.
There are 30 community schools in the rural municipality. The new education policy has been applied in all the schools, according to the rural municipality.
Sandesh Tamang, a 14-year-old boy from ward 1 of Barhabise Municipality, also comes from a family with poor economic conditions. Tamang is a grade 8 student at Setidevi Basic School in the same ward of the municipality.
“Many of my friends have dropped out of school in recent years, mostly due to financial troubles. Like my friends, I was also planning to quit my studies but after the municipality’s announcement to provide free education and midday meals, I have decided to continue,” Tamang told the Post.
Out of the 12 local units in Sindhupalchok, only three local units—Tripurasundari Rural Municipality, Barhabise Municipality and Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality—have implemented the free education and midday meal programmes.
According to Shaligram Ghimire, head of the education unit at Tripurasundari Rural Municipality, his office has allocated a separate budget for free education and midday meals.
“The government provides a budget for midday meals up to grade 6. So the local unit provided the extra budget to extend the free meal scheme up to grade 8,” said Ghimire. “We hope the rural municipality’s step will help reduce the high dropout rates in community schools. Most children give up education because their families cannot afford to send them to school.”
According to Binesh Kumar Shrestha, head of the education unit at Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality, there are 29 community schools in the rural municipality. “All schools are providing free education up to grade 12 and midday meals up to grade 8. The rural municipality also provides school stationery so the students or schools don’t have to worry about arranging them.”
Balkrishna Basnet, mayor of Barhabise Municipality, said that the municipality has also deployed officers to monitor the schools in case of any irregularities. “There are 54 community schools in the municipality and we have notified all of them not to charge any kind of fee to students. We will take action against any school found charging students for either education or midday meals,” said Basnet. “We hope this new step will help children from poor economic backgrounds to stay in school and complete their higher education.”