School Admission: Myths & Reality
The country has left several humanitarian and social agenda behind in terms of universal education - Free and Compulsory School Education, MDG (Millennium Development Goal) by the year 2015, among several others. Like the worst littering and dirty streets and corners in settlement areas of ‘Open Toilet Free Districts’ the ‘Free compulsory literacy’ or ‘illiteracy free districts’ is also a myth, to say the least. When the informal classes, run by the ministry, were caught red hand for misappropriating the fund for facilities and equipment right near the capital, flops and frauds were made public.
A relevant question for the season could be something like this: Will the government take necessary action against such perpetrators in the days ahead? Or, will the government close eyes even if somebody somewhere is working against the government’s policy to educate the children and adults wherever they are in the shortest possible time?
Counting from 1950 when the literacy rate was very low, less than 8 per cent, we are near 70 per cent literacy rate now. That is general and is like the increase in the latest data of per capita income of $1000. Is the family from the 40 odd per cent which lives below the poverty level receiving a small part of this mega dollar? No. This is an average that is created from the Forbes’ list down to the family of Banch Bahadur Sarki of Dadafaya VDC, Humla. Similarly, the literacy rate includes the Newar, Thakali, Khasa Brahmin, and few others on the upper scale of the literacy index. At the lower level scale, there are scores of especially Terai Dalits and backward communities with single digit literacy percentage.
This year also the government has decided to revamp the earlier decisions and initiated new plans to enroll the school age children countrywide. The idea is to bring largest number new students at school to achieve the national goal of ultimately enrolling all school age children in public schools. As an example of such commitment, some nice pictures are made public where the current and the former PMs and other leaders are shown with their new charges on their laps.
As the pictures of the PM with out-of-school children appeared in the national media, there were number of criticisms. The fact is: when the leaders were sponsoring a lapful of kids the message was clear: From now on school age kids will be at school and learning. Later, the example set at Rara or Chitwan went down to the provinces where the Pradesh CMs and other dignitaries were doing the same. The interesting factor was that the leaders reached the most backward people and regions with such captivating plans and commitments. The little and innocent kids were smiling to be on the lap of the builders of the nation.
A brief reflection is necessary and relevant here. The new democratic government set the literacy and quality education campaign with the help of ADB, World Bank and other international agencies. The campaign came forward with packages of education support programmes following the fall of the monarchy and even before in the post-Panchayat era. BPEP was one such programme pouring in money through the Ministry of Education. The whole idea was to fund projects which were designed to make the basic and primary education effective, student friendly and quality oriented. Experts in the field of education who had long history in this field were hired by several consultant agencies spread in Kathmandu. Huge reports with clear plans and programmes were prepared. The Ministry of Education became rich in terms of reports.
The question raised by the consultants-experts was: Will these reports be read by the planners? Will more children attend primary schools than before? How would the family below the poverty line or in the remote regions of the country find the plans useful? Or, will the government bring other plans focusing on the need of the family of such out of school children?
History shows most of these reports remained in the shelves of MoE. The flow of fund didn’t stop. One important contribution of these funds was to make some noted and well-linked private consultant agencies richer and powerful. University professors and other trained academicians had their hands full with dollar bills occasionally. If you were not a retiree you could very well forget the assigned classes and enjoy consultancy.
Alongside these developments in the field of primary education, many teachers found new way to stay out of the teaching job and stay near the political parties of their choice. Teacher recruitment was an easy way for the parties to collect students in their rallies and other programmes. Wide distribution of party membership in the rank of elementary teachers brought natural division in the school itself.
More than two hundred thousand kids of primary school age are out of school today. Those who enroll do not continue till the end of the level. Scholarship plans for girls, Dalits and marginalised groups has not functioned as expected. There are examples in remote districts where Dalit hostels are occupied by high caste leaders or their families for the use of their NGOs or CBOs. Finally, in order to stop children from going to private schools in urban areas and bring the out of school children to school family problems must be understood clearly and solution provided the parents. Just a gesture or two and a call without analysing the reason would not bear fruit. The government tree of education is not giving desired and tasty fruit, anyway.