Reforming School Enrollment Campaign
Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
At the beginning of this year, school enrollment campaign gained momentum across the country as political leaders, ministers, artistes and social workers took guardianship of the poor and helpless children creating much whim. As the government could not succeed in enrolling all the children of school going age at that time, the enrollment campaign has been extended up to mid-August, 2018. In the last two decades, government data shows rapid increase in the school enrollment rate bridging the gender gap.
However, these facts are subject to critical scrutiny as it is open to question in that how the data is generated and for what purpose. In my view, the school enrollment campaign alone as a ritual is inadequate to attract and retain students in schools. Therefore, a number of factors need to be taken into account in conducting and making school enrollment campaign a success in real sense.
The first issue is the utter poverty that makes parents helpless to enroll their children in schools. As a result, parents have to make children work to meet their ends – children have to engage in the wage labour for livelihood. In the context of border regions in the western parts of Nepal, school going age children mostly from the poor and marginalised communities migrate to India in search of menial job confronting harsh conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to deal with the abject poverty that obstructs students from fulfilling their educational aspirations.
Similarly, the school enrollment campaign needs to be made innovative by sharing information about various scholarship entitlements for students in the community schools. The government transfers a number of scholarship funds to schools in the name of Dalits, girls, marginalised groups, indigenous peoples, etc. In this case, parents need to be well-informed about such provisions which may give incentive to parents to enroll children in schools. While disseminating such information through door to door campaign distributing pamphlets in Kailali district, I came to know through the head teacher that schools receive only fifty per cent of the girls’ scholarship which is supplemented by the school’s internal sources in distributing the scholarship. In any case, government provision is there and state funds is transferred to a great extent; so, it is the responsibility of schools, teachers and citizens to ensure that such provisions are implemented duly to increase the number of students.
The penetration of private schools even in semi-rural and rural areas has been a major reason for decreasing rate of enrollment in the community schools, especially in the lower grades. Although the recent policy discourse underscores that private schools (those registered under the Company Act) will be shut down or converted into trust schools, new private schools are opening up with the permission of local governments that are conferred with all the powers related to education sector up to secondary level. This clearly suggests that the policy debate and discourse going on at the centre no more holds water because the local realities are such that goes on irrespective of anything else. Even if it is necessary to better regulate private schools, this has not been the government agenda because the focus has been to close them down which I find impossible at least in the present context. Therefore, the rise of private schools that are perceived to be providing quality education as well as care for children has caught the imagination of many parents. This needs to be tackled properly.
The newly constituted local governments should lead enrollment campaign as they are conferred with powers and mandate to operate the education sector. However, local governments remained passive in the regard this year. To my knowledge, local governments had no systematic plans as such for enrollment campaigns. It is likely that there are several reasons for this state of affairs: they are in the initial phase, suffer from staff inadequacy, have no clue about what to do, have a lot of burdens, etc. What it indicates is that local government has yet to gain legitimacy and perform proactively to realise the constitutional provisions. Lest the they are likely to be stripped of their powers and functions as it has been in some other countries in the similar situations. Therefore, it is high time that LGs make the best use of their rights, including educational rights, at this time by any means proactively.
In short, variously located stakeholders should undertake their responsibilities to make school enrollment campaign effective. Meanwhile, a number of reform measures should be adopted making it innovative, improving the school environment and addressing the root causes of abject poverty that drive children to the world of wage labour. In this way, taking the guardianship of a few children alone is inadequate for mainstreaming and retaining out-of-school children in the formal education. In the long run, the government should adopt measures that address systemic challenges as encountered by the school going age children in different parts of the country.