-By Ujeena Rana
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 26) states that education is an inherent right: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages” (United Nations 1948). According to the Constitution of Nepal, every citizen shall have the right of access to basic education. Every citizen shall have the right to get compulsory and free education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level from the State.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS Data Centre), between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of out-of-school children among primary school age children has declined from 20% to 6% in South Asia.The UNESCO program Education for All (2000-2015), part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aimed to provide free, universal access to primary schooling, proved to be a success in dramatically increasing enrollment, even in Nepal.
Why Invest In Education
Investment in education matters because it is the key to reducing inequalities and to break away from the cycle of poverty. Only educated children can bring changes in the community. Even though we applaud the encouraging enrollment at the primary level, “Quality Education: Why it Matters”—an article prepared by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG)—reports that about one-third of countries in developing regions have not achieved gender parity in primary education.
Though Nepal finds itself in the least developed country category of the United Nations, it has set a goal to advance from this status by 2022 and shift to a middle income country by 2030.World Bank firmly believes that education is the key to poverty alleviation within less economically developed countries.If Nepal is to meet its target, education has to be government’s chief concern.
Investment in primary and secondary education is a priority in the world’s poorest countries; whereas in higher-income countries, upper secondary and tertiary education garner interest.According to the report “The Investment Case in Education and Equity” prepared by UNICEF, for low-income countries, primary education forms the ground for development and the base for further income growth. However, as income level increases, the importance of higher levels of education becomes essential.
Good Neighbors, an international humanitarian and development NGO, in general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has an array of interest areas like livelihood, health, WASH. Nonetheless, it is education that enjoys undisputed top position in the priority list. “We came to realise that if we invest for livelihood or health we may get results immediately, but for long-term development of the community and country, we need to invest in education. The result of investing in education may come in a decade or more but it will have resounding impact for many years,” briefs Deepak Dulal, Education Manager.
Yoka Brandt in her article “Education: the most powerful investment in our future” reaffirms the obvious, “Investing in education isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart economics.” She uses statistics to prove her point.“Evidence shows that on average, each additional year of education boosts a person’s income by 10% and increases a country’s GDP by 18%. Some researchers estimate that if every child learned to read, around 170 million fewer people would live in poverty,” underscores Brandt. Education impacts gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, individual earnings and poverty reduction. “The evidence that education is a driver of national economic growth has been extensively studied and is well accepted,” adds Brandt.
Education – Free But Not Free
Even though ‘free education’ has a nice ring to it, it is only the tuition that is free. The uniform, lunch and stationery are the responsibility of individuals. GNI has 24,000 ‘sponsored children’ who are directly supported in the form of free stationery, uniform and remedial classes. GNI has established computer and science labs in schools and supports teacher training capacity building, and system strengthening of the local governing body of schools. “Indirectly, we have been supporting 65, ooo children,” states Dulal. Their major funding partner is GNI Korea while other funding partners are GNI UK, Japan and Canada.
The provision of free primary education is restricted to public schools. “Since basic education has been placed as a basic right in our system, free education is offered only in public schools. Tomorrow if the constitutional provision is to be implemented, we might have to commit the ‘free provision’ to all students,” informs Dr. Hari Lamsal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Education. He adds, “Private schools might not continue to function as at present. Talks and discussions are underway. We might need a regulating mechanism.”
Government, CSOs and Private Agencies
GNI has been working in Nepal since 2002. It has a sponsorship approach and is currently functioning in 20 districts. Education has been prioritised in 13 districts.
There may be multiple actors working for the same cause. The main actor, Dr. Lamsal claims, is inarguably the government. As it should be. “The case of equity and basics can be achieved only within the framework of the government. While working at the local level, the government has to work with various partners, but, ultimately the outcome is dependent on who leads the event,” asserts Dr. Lamsal.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) comprehend this well. “The priority is to work with government agencies because we are not the direct agents to usher changes, we are contributing to help the government achieve its objectives,” states Dulal. CSOs want government to own the projects which, he states, is the only way to make the project sustainable. GNI works with the private sector to deliver trainings, get technical expertise and equipment support. “But the priority is to work with the government,” stresses Dulal.
The government has not been able to uplift government and community based educational institutions where quality and infrastructure are compromised, and the situation works to the advantage of the private sector which is investing in education reaping colossal returns. “The private sector can contribute by not hiking prices. This affects the entire ecosystem. There are numerous areas where we can collaborate but within the national framework and within national standards. Every sector can contribute in part,” states Dr. Lamsal. “Probably the government has not done enough to get the private sector to assist in its goals. Although there are public-private partnership models, CSOs need to coordinate, assist and supplement the common goal,” states Dulal. More than policies, it is the tardiness in government service that often detracts CSOs from achieving their objective of quality education, he points out.
Access To and Quality of Education
GoN broadly divides education in three parts: access, quality and efficiency. The government claims to have achieved fair success in terms of access. “We have accomplished great results in South West Asia. We are improving in equity,” states Dr. Lamsal. However, he is quick to admit that complete saturation of access has not been achieved. “There are things to be completed in that department: differently abled children may have been left out, marginalised children, street children may not have been wholly incorporated into the access part.”
While the numbers increased, quality proved to be an unrequited wish of MDGs. Since good policy can help improve education quality, the unfulfilled and unfinished agendas of MDGs have been passed on to UNSDG. Quality is its primary agenda. “In terms of the learning achievement, we have not achieved our target. Those students who are enrolled in grade 1, all of them should get to grade 12,” comments Dr. Lamsal. When children come to school, they need to be retained. GNI believes that conducive environment and improving quality is the way forward.
To help the government achieve its target, GNI is working towards integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education and for this purpose, they started “smart classroom project” in June 2017 in 21 schools in Kaski and Parvat districts where they have been piloting the project. “We are working with Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE) to develop, design and digitalize teaching materials based on the prescribed curriculum of GoN. Once the project is completed, we will provide basic fundamental computer training to all teachers in these schools.”Additionally, ‘Early Grade Reading’ project will be started in Mugu and Humla and later extended to Darchula, Doti and Bajura to develop reading skills of students which is also to develop quality learning purpose. GNI also works in the sector of school management system, or how to better manage schools.
Curriculum, Provinces & Budget Allocation
With the introduction of provinces, there needs to be a three level government ownership in the curriculum. “Some core elements may be institutionalised nationally, some at the province and some at the local levels which means we have to correct the curriculum to some extent,” informs Dr. Lamsal. Additional changes need to be made in the implementation arrangement. The SSDP was formulated for District Education Offices (DEOs) and Regional Education Directorates (REDs). Now things will be different.
“With local, provincial and federal governments, now we need to figure out what will be under the jurisdiction of each. Things also need to be divided at the implementation level,” states Dr. Lamsal. Education under the federal set-up will bring its share of prospects and challenges.
School Sector Development Plan (SSDP)
Quality Education is SDG, goal number 4, which is to: ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. Nepal has committed to the UNSDG and thereby has introduced SSDP.
The GoN has developed SSDP for July 2016 to July 2023 period. According to a MoE report, “The SSDP is considered an important vessel to enable Nepal to achieve the SDGs and to reach the goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2030. The main drivers of the plan’s content are the achievements, lessons learned and unfinished agenda of the (EFA) programme (2004-2009) and the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP) (2009– 2016) under the Education for All National Plan of Action (2001–2015).”
“Some of the unfinished tasks of SSRP have been incorporated in SSDP for example disaster risk reduction (DRR) and school safety, a need we felt after the April 2015 earthquake. ICT in education, though it was introduced in SSRP has been given more priority in SSDP,” states Dulal.
The GoN and eight Education Development Partners have signed a Joint Financing Agreement (JFA) to formalise solidarity for SSDP. Around US$ 6.4 billion has been projected as the total cost of the SSDP,and it is reported that around 8% of this amount is anticipated to be covered with external assistance. The SSDP JFA gathers different partners to support the GoN to improve equity, quality, efficiency, governance and management of the education sector. The development partners have committed almost US$485 million to support implementation of SSDP.
“Whatever money we have is not enough, whatever has been allocated to education is not enough. Of course, we need more money. Concurrently, it is not just about asking for more money, we need to be able to reallocate the available budget. We have to see things through cost benefit, cost effectiveness and cost analysis tools. We have to increase the budget as well as reassess the available budget to be able to fulfill our commitment of the SDG,” explains Dr. Lamsal.
Tomorrow if the constitutional provision is to be implemented, we might have to commit the ‘free provision’ to all students.
Dr. Hari Lamsal
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Education
We came to realise that if we invest for livelihood or health we may get results immediately, but for long-term development of the community and country, we need to invest in education. The result of investing in education may come in a decade or so but it will have resounding impact for many years.
Instead of seeking development partners, education funds should be an undertaking of the government. “Funding depends on donor priority area. If education does not fall in their priority area, then that is their decision. But the more pressing question is—how much funds have we allocated to education and its utilisation in our budget,” qusetions Dr. Lamsal. Education is public good. According to Dr. Lamsal once it is accepted as public good, then the government has to invest in it. If education is declared as a public good, then it should be made free till a certain level. If the constitution declares it as a basic right of the citizens, we are accepting education as a public good. Public good is public funding and that is government funding.
In the report “The Investment Case for Education and Equity” prepared by UNICEF, it is stated that international aid does not focus enough on education. Not comparing apples with bags but the report states that “during 2010–2012, on average, external aid to health amounted to US$20 billion a year compared with only US$13 billion a year for education.” However, the outlook of governments in low income countries is inverse. “On average, the share in total government expenditure is 9.2% for health and 16.3% for education.”