south asia children's fund
In South Asia caste and gender discrimination effectively freeze tens of millions of children out of primary schooling. Schools often lack the basic resources that children need to learn. Children quickly become bored by a curriculum that emphasizes memorization and rote learning rather than creativity and critical thinking, and opt to join the work force at an early age. The poor quality of education in the region also is a major factor contributing to the trafficking of children.
The South Asia Children’s Fund works with recognized leaders in the field of education to improve the quality of education at the community level, especially for girls and children from disadvantaged groups. We emphasize innovation in all our work, introducing teachers and students to new technology, and to new ways of learning.
Education Priorities in Nepal
Nepal remains defined, and to a large extent divided, by caste and gender discrimination. Discrimination against women and members of so-called ‘low caste’ communities is a considerable barrier to the nation’s social and economic development. Virtually all doctors, lawyers, diplomats, UN employees, and senior government officials in Nepal are from the most privileged elements of society. Most opportunities for studies abroad (and scholarships) are reserved for young people from private schools whose families have substantial financial resources. Providing quality education for disadvantaged and so-called ‘low caste’ children, especially girls, is therefore one of the most effective means to bring about positive social change in Nepal, and to create the conditions for peace, stability, and economic development.
But there are formidable obstacles that prevent many children in Nepal from successfully completing their education, and becoming responsible and productive members of society. The following are education priorities that deserve the attention of the international community.
Improving the Quality of Education
Approximately 35% of all children in Nepal who enroll in grade one fail to complete their primary schooling. Many children simply lose interest in attending school, and consider any time spent in classrooms to be wasted. Overcrowding of classrooms is a chronic problem, and contributes to children dropping out of school. Children from remote villages often arrive for their lessons after having walked more than one hour from their homes, tired and undernourished, in no condition to learn their lessons. The quality of teaching in Nepal is also a factor that contributes to high drop-out rates: Schools with classes that average more than 70 students sharing desks make interactive learning impossible. Classrooms are spartan, devoid of teaching aids, including simple charts and maps. Electricity outside the cities is unknown. Access to computers and the internet is a distant dream.
Many middle class families in Nepal, frustrated by overcrowded classrooms and the poor quality of teaching at public schools, opt to send their children to private schools, which can be of dubious quality at best. Boarding schools have also proliferated, with children being housed in primitive and often unsafe accommodation.
Shifting Away from Rote Learning
Virtually all schools in Nepal promote rote learning rather than creativity and critical thinking skills. Secondary school teachers see their primary responsibility as preparing students for Nepal’s antiquated School Leaving Certificate examinations, rather than inspiring their students to become independent learners. Classrooms are rarely exciting and stimulating places for children, who quickly become bored. It’s not surprising that there’s little reading culture among young Nepali students, other than committing tracts of text and tables of data to memory. Nepal is in need of a fresh curriculum, informed by the latest research, which builds on proven strategies that help children to learn.
Reaching Disadvantaged Communities
A disproportionate number of children who drop out of school in Nepal are from disadvantaged communities, including Dalit and Tharu children. Many children from minority communities speak their own native languages, and not Nepali, which is the only language of instruction in the nation’s public schools. Harassment of children from so-called low caste communities by teachers and classmates is a significant problem, as is violence in the classroom. More teachers from minority communities need to be trained and hired, especially women.ldren to learn.
Reaching Working Children
Poor quality education and harassment in the classroom are factors contributing to the vulnerability of disadvantaged children to the most exploitive forms of child labor. Most children who fail to complete primary education join the workforce as a means of supporting their families. Child labor is common in all districts of Nepal, including major urban areas where girls and boys as young as eight years of age are employed full-time as child domestic workers. Girls and boys in Nepal between the ages of ten and 16 are traditionally employed in the agriculture sector, in brick and carpet factories, as drivers’ assistants, breaking stones, on farms, in coal mines, and as porters along trails in remote locations.
Preventing the Trafficking of Children
Tens of thousands of Nepali children below the age of 16 are trafficked every year to India and other countries. Much of the anti-trafficking programming in Nepal has been founded on assumptions, myths and moral values, and has been fuelled largely by good intentions. The impact of “rescue” programmes carried out by NGO’s has been disappointing with respect to the modest number of Nepalese girls and young women whom have been returned to their communities from India, and reintegrated with their families. Furthermore, border interception programmes have often interfered with the right of adult Nepali women to travel independently, and to make their own decisions.
One of the best strategies to prevent the trafficking of children is to improve the quality of education in Nepal, especially for girls and children from minority communities. Furthermore, steps must be taken to address the invisible barriers that keep poor girls out of school, including school fees, administrative and enrollment requirements, school uniforms, and the lack of separate toilet facilities.
Rewarding Teachers and Principals
Primary school teachers in Nepal are chronically underpaid, earning on average about US $100-150 per month, depending on their qualifications and experience. Absenteeism among teachers is the rule rather than the exception. Opportunities for the advancement and training of teachers are limited. Politics rather than merit has become the determining factor for the appointment of principals and senior education officers across the country. It’s therefore no surprise that of Nepal’s 75 District Education Officers, 74 are men. None are members of disadvantaged communities. Nepal needs to select principals from the most experienced and respected teachers across the country, with no reference to their political associations or family status. Similarly, teachers should be rewarded with financial and other incentives for demonstrating inspired leadership in the classroom.