Educational Challenges in Nepal

Written by Ximeng Zhang

Located on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains, combined with a vibrant culture and rich history, Nepal is known as a country with never-ending peace and love. However, such a beautiful country was only rated as a lower-middle-income country by the World Bank in its newest country classifications by income level. To achieve its aim of achieving middle-income status by 2030, education is of paramount importance. According to the data collected by the World Bank, Nepal has come a long way to raise its adult literacy rate from 21% in 1981 to 71% in 2021 and its youth literacy rate from 30% in 1981 to 94% in 2021. However, despite the promising increase, educational challenges persist in Nepal, hindering its national progress in providing accessible and quality education to its citizens.

Historical Background

Education in Nepal has a long history, starting from the time of the Gurukula system, where learning was based on apprenticeship. British colonial rule in Nepal brought significant changes to the education system, leading to the establishment of modern schools. Following independence, the Nepalese government implemented reforms such as compulsory education and the creation of teacher training institutions. In 1853, the Durbar School was established, which marked the start of formal schooling. During the Rana regime (1846–1951), education was confined to the ruling class, as it was seen as a threat to the autocratic regime. Nepal witnessed the expansion of its education system after the fall of the Rana dynasty and the transition to democratic governance in the 1950s. Later, in the 1960s, the introduction of compulsory education made primary education (grades 1–8) free and mandatory for all children. In the 1980s, the government extended the policy of free education to the secondary level (lower secondary education: grades 9 and 10, and upper secondary education: grades 10 and 11). In the 1990s, several universities were established, expanding access to higher education throughout Nepal.

Students in grade 6 at Shree Dharmasthali Lower Secondary School, Pokhara, Nepal. Photo by Jim Holmes for AusAID

Underlying Barriers 

Despite the progress and efforts made by the government, the education system still faces a set of challenges that result from a set of barriers, namely sociocultural barriers, financial barriers, and infrastructural barriers.

Sociocultural barriers

In Nepali society, discrimination based on gender and caste is deeply rooted. Nowadays, sons are still preferred over girls for a lot of Nepali families. Beyond this, early marriage and the idea that girls are viewed as someone else’s property all hinder education for girls, while in reality, “investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries, and the entire world”, Although Nepal declared caste-based discrimination unconstitutional in 1951 and criminalized discriminatory practices in 1991, caste-based discrimination persists despite the above-mentioned legislative countermeasures. The worst case is for girls and young women belonging to disadvantaged caste groups, as they suffer from intersectionality. 

Besides, language, as a result of culture, also appears to be a barrier to education. According to the most recent Nepal Census in 2011, there are 123 languages spoken as mother tongue; among them, Nepali is spoken as mother tongue by 44.6% of the population. According to data collected in 2017, only 24 languages are utilized for the development and publication of textbooks at the basic education level, indicating that students whose mother tongue is not one of the 24 languages are disadvantaged.

Financial barriers

Although the Nepali government has made secondary education free, the allocated funds are not sufficient to cover the needed funds. Between stopping student enrollment and raising funds from the guardian, some public schools choose to raise funds from the guardian. There are other hidden costs, such as those related to school uniforms, bags, stationery, Fuor other supplies. In such a way, poverty becomes a barrier to education.

Infrastructural Barriers

The school facilities in Nepal are not sufficient to meet the privacy and safety needs of girls. According to the data collected by UNICEF in 2018, “Twenty percent of government schools lack improved water and sanitation facilities, with an additional 19 percent lacking separate toilets for girls and boys and menstrual hygiene management facilities”.

Moreover, the quality of education and quantity of schools in Nepal are highly uneven. The disparities in teacher-student ratios across Nepal are major and generally high, resulting in overcrowded classrooms and an inability to provide child-centered and quality education. The lack of well-trained teachers also leads to poor-quality education. Besides, inadequate school monitoring also makes it hard to ensure quality education.

Further, as observed by Human Rights Watch, children with disabilities face various forms of obstacles to inclusive education. The physical accessibility of most schools is rather limited, making it hard for children with disabilities to enter school, classrooms, and toilets. Children with disabilities are not well accommodated, as aides to support children in need to participate in mainstream education are far from enough. There is no academic curriculum for children with intellectual disabilities. There is also a lack of reasonable accommodations for examinations.

Persisting Challenges 

As a result of the above-described barriers, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in Nepal, which manages the Nepali education system, admits in its School Education Sector Plan (2022/23-2031/32) that: 

  • “The education system of Nepal faces a number of challenges, often similar to those encountered by other developing countries. For example, in terms of access and participation, 4.9 percent of children aged 5–12 years remain out of school as they are unable to access basic education. Challenges remain in completion, with 76.6 percent completing basic education.”
  • “The enrollment of children with disabilities remains far below the proportion in their respective total populations.”
  • “A large proportion of out-of-school and dropout children and those who repeat classis made up of the poorest, most vulnerable children and children with disabilities, concentrated in certain regions of the country.
  • “The lack of adequate, competent, and motivated teachers in schools poses a major further challenge in terms of improving the quality of learning.
  • “Some of the problems that have been observed are lack of effective and robust coordination and cooperation mechanisms and accountability systems between the Federal Government, Provincial Governments and Local Levels; lack of adequate human resources and capacity for education planning and implementation at Local Level; lack of strong leadership of the head teacher in school; lack of an effective system of accountability for student learning.

Way Forward

To tackle these barriers and challenges and to develop an education system where citizens can enjoy the right to acquire relevant and quality education comparable to regional and international standards, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology has set objectives to develop an accessible and qualified education system for all children and an effective monitoring, coordinating, and collaborating system. Besides, the ministry also set an objective to strengthen alternative pathways in education. The objectives are supported by a series of strategies.

To conclude, through the decades, the education system of Nepal has changed tremendously, and Nepal has indeed made tremendous efforts regarding increasing the literacy of its citizens. However, Nepal still faces several forms of barriers and challenges, which are admitted by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. Such barriers and challenges include deep-rooted discrimination based on gender and caste, insufficient accommodation for people with different mother tongues, poverty-related difficulties, low quality of education, a lack of basic infrastructure for girls and children with disabilities in school, as well as a lack of a school monitoring and accountability system. To address these obstacles and difficulties, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology has set a set of objectives and strategies to achieve its vision and mission.

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