Nepal: Discrimination in the Educational System

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

Nepal, also known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is situated in the southern part of the Himalayas.  It is famous for its breathtaking mountainous landscapes, diverse population, and rich cultural and spiritual heritage. However, behind this picturesque panorama lies a more stressful landscape full of millions of children facing a serious and persistent issue, spread all over the country. An issue which has been affecting the country’s prosperity and aspiration for socio-economic development.

Inclusion and access to education are two fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), specifically in Article 26. Furthermore, the education given must be provided without discrimination, as it is linked to another fundamental right, freedom from discrimination, as stated in Article 7.

However, the discrimination in the educational system in Nepal seems to have numerous causes, from political conflicts, that cause disruptions and displacements of entire families, to socio-economic backgrounds, that include poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and others. This article aims to explain the fragile connection between the causes and the results, namely the types of discrimination that exist in the educational system in Nepal. It will further present some of the solutions for those issues and the government’s perspective for the future, according to the School Education Sector Plan (2022)

Origin-based discrimination

While the term “Dalit” does not have an official definition, it can be understood from the Nepalese context as “untouchables” persons or as a minority caste group that is (especially) educationally disadvantaged. In Nepal, Dalits experience a poverty rate of 42%, compared to the national average of 25.2% (International Dalit Solidarity Network, 2021). While poverty is not a direct cause for educational exclusion for Dalit groups, it is one of the factors that lowers this group on the caste hierarchy

Despite the adoption of the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act in 2011, cast-based violence and discrimination towards Dalit people are still a reality. In the educational system, there is a discrepancy between what is taught in classrooms and what is effectively happening. While teachers are not always showing direct discrimination, some cases show the tendency to avoid staying, drinking or eating near them, a sort of ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ discrimination. Caste-based discrimination is therefore one of the reasons why Dalit students are falling behind in education, whether it is related to the accessibility to education or discriminatory behaviour from other students or teachers. On a further basis, this discrimination can lead to other issues, such as the higher risk of child labour compared to other children.

Gender biases

In Nepal, Dalit female students experience double discrimination, as they are both females and part of Dalit culture. According to a survey from 2020 (World Economic Forum, 2020), Nepal is ranked as the 101st out of 153 countries on the Gender Gap Index. The statistics reflect gender-based discrimination on enrolment rates, dropout rates and academic performance rates. What is interesting is that, like origin-based discrimination, gender biases are interconnected with educational exclusion, influenced by social, cultural, and economic factors.

In the socio-cultural context, there is a tendency towards a patriarchal system of social relations, where male students experience less discrimination than female ones, and girls are under the burden of housework. Even the educational system promotes gender inequality, by providing textbooks and other materials that lack female representation or are mostly presented as passive characters. In contrast, male characters are represented as the main source of knowledge and wisdom.

Disability inequity

This issue has an underlying bigger issue, at the national level. It was reported that the current national disability classification system is very restrictive and does not meet international standards. Moreover, it lacks proper collection of data regarding persons with disabilities both inside and outside the school children. In the end, more and more children not only lack proper access to education, but they are also victims of discrimination, abuse and other injustices, but nothing has changed. Only about 50% of schools in Nepal are providing remote teaching and learning support for students with disabilities (Sherpa et al., 2020). This number increased especially after the pandemic. However, not only the quantity is important, but the quality of education given also plays a crucial role.

Despite the progress in policy and the adoption of new policies to promote disability rights, such as the Disability Rights Act and an Inclusive Education Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2017, children are still offered poor education and are facing discrimination. Segregation from other children from other classrooms is one form of discrimination, as children with any kind of disabilities are divided from the other students, despite some children’s wish to learn in the same classrooms as normal people, according to some interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch. In the end, the lack of trained teachers, lack of reasonable accommodations, physical accessibility and segregation are some of the obstacles that are a constant burden on the backs of children with disabilities in Nepal.

Language barriers

This issue is closely linked to the discrimination between indigenous children in schools. Nepal, apart from its  diverse culture, is also one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, having 123 spoken languages and ethnic groups, according to the Census Report from 2011. Moreover, 36% of the total number of children in Nepal are indigenous. However, children from minority language backgrounds or who have limited proficiency in Nepali, also have limited access to education, while some children have access to education in their native language. As a result, the lack of educational materials combined with the lack of trained teachers in different languages heavily affects the education process of students who are indigenous or from minorities, leading to low academic performances, illiteracy, and high dropout rates.

Future Perspectives and solutions

To mitigate those issues, the Government took steps to improve the educational system and lower the discrimination rate. Most of them are outlined in the School Education Sector Plan, drafted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Among the proposed solutions, the ministry highlighted the need to adopt an inclusive curriculum in schools that ensures equity (especially) for students that come from marginalized groups, such as the Dalits, and ones with disabilities. The plan also includes making the education system more effective, improving its quality, and including alternative pathways of education to be more accessible. Additionally, there is a recognized need for multilingual education to eradicate language-based discrimination and for more trained teachers and staff, for the purpose of encouraging community engagement.

Some policies drafted by UNICEF also recognize the need for collaboration between international organizations and the government, to make sure children’s rights are protected and help with implementing more protective programs.

Lastly, it is important to monitor and closely look at the progress, in the hope that is ensured the effectiveness of the policies and accountability in the battle to eliminate discrimination in the educational sector.

Reflections and summary

Reflecting on the multi-layered issues that affect the educational system in Nepal, discrimination is a main barrier to equitable education, whether it is based on origin, gender, disability or language. Despite the government’s efforts to tackle this issue, the problem persists. The mixture of the social, economic and cultural factors reflects the complexity of the issue. Looking into the future,  there is a need for a collective effort in order to make schools more inclusive, more accessible, and more supportive.


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Cover image: Grade 8 student studies at Shree Dharmasthali Lower Secondary School, Pokhara, Nepal. Photo by Jim Holmes for AusAID. via Wikimedia Commons

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