Education for all remains a distant dream

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, May 21:

Violence and disruptions related to Maoists insurgency has dealt a body-blow to one of the most crucial components of socio-economic development in the country, the education sector. It has literally terrorised the ‘schooling’ environment, which often becomes the first victim to most ‘bandhs’ and ‘agitations’.

Future of millions of boys and girls continue to be held in ransom to the lingering political bickering. The government’s much-touted Education For All (EFA) ‘slogan’ by 2015, seems to be a ‘gun’ that has gone so ‘slow’ that it may never really fire. “Properly addressing the current education sector’s problems is a huge challenge. The aim of giving education to all by 2015, is in great jeopardy,” education experts opined. The goal of achieving the education target by 2015 depends largely on the effective implementation of government policies. EFA budget for the fiscal 2004-09 is $815 million. Out of which, $480 million (59 per cent) is being spent on recurrent expenditures. Private schools and colleges are also in the race to spend more on education in the name of giving quality education.

Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring full rights to girls, still seems a dream. Given such a background, the 8th Nepal Education and Book Fair 2004 that begins today in Kathmandu, gains added significance. Efforts like these give a much needed boost to the flagging education sector in the country. Says Surya Adhikari of the Nepal College of Information Technology (NCIT), one of the participants at the 8th Nepal Education and Book Fair, said that the fair will help open educational opportunities to all interested students.

The fair will give practical tips related to eudation amd career building, he says. “In today’s educational world, computer technology is a necessary tool for achieving better carreer prospects along with quality education”,

Adhikari opined. The government’s strategy of EFA 2004-2009, a five year long programme under the 10th five year plan, aims to ensure that children grow up to lead healthy and productive lives. As human resource development is a prerequisite for reducing human poverty and improve the quality of life in rural areas, education including health is a must to accomplish ‘better results’. Making policy decisions alone, without understanding the real situation in regard to the education scenario across the country, will not help achieve education for all, opines Prof Pushkar Bajracharya. While discussing with The Himalayan Times, Prof Bajracharya said, “EFA is being implemented across the world aiming to attain education by 2015 for all, as the donor community has termed ‘education’ as a part of human rights. But here, the reality is different”.

The education system has to be linked with technical education, considering the skills and jobs to be availed after the completion of studies. Releasing only new packages will not help achieve the targets of education, he opined. He expressed concerns over quality spending on education. A total of Rs 15,616 million has been earmarked for education for fiscal years 2002-04 which secures 15.25 per cent of the total government budget. Although the budget is there, how it gets spent on quality education matters a lot, says Bajracharya. In terms of quantitative education performance, it is alright compared to other South Asian countries. But, Prof Bajracharya showed serious concerns over the political deadlock. “All political parties should formulate a common agenda for education for achieving the targets and for attaining a sustainable socio-economic development,” he opined. “Political parties should refrain from using students in their campaign,” he said.

The plan to hand over school management to local bodies is also gathering dust with increased social insecurity and government’s inability to reach insurgency-hit schools across the board. All this indicates that the government’s objective to educate all is likely only to gather dust. Unless the ‘school governance’ is improved in days ahead, EFA is unlikely to be implemented, experts opine. “At a time when the education sector is being terrorised, decentralisation of education sector in line with Local Self-Governance Act (LSGA) seems like a mirage.” Dr Kedar Bhakta Mathema, former vice-chancellor of the Tribhuvan University said that, given the existing difficult circumstances, EFA is very difficult to implement. He termed the EFA project very ambitious. “It was a good target under normal circumstances. But for its success, we need to deal well with political instability, weak financial condition of children, language problems and ethnicity problems,” Dr Mathema said.

Anita Regmi of Don Bosco College (DBC) that provides education from lower level to higher education, said that the fair would help in enrolling students to higher studies in the context of globalisation and information age. Regmi said that information flow is the need of the hour in this competitive environment and provide quality education to children. Mohan Gyanwali, general secretary of Nepal Teachers Association (NTA) talking to The Himalayan Times said, “Education For All is just a slogan of the government and donors, which is impossible to implement under the current situation.”

He suggested that to educate all by 2015, special programmes in coordination with teachers be implemented across the country. However, teachers and students themselves are not secure these days due to Maoist insurgency, he said. “Students after passing 10th grade be mobilised for skill-oriented trainings and education that will help achieve education targets. However, lack of resources has also closed the doors for further prosperity in the education system,” he opined.

According to statistics, of the total 97,000 primary teachers across the country, only 15 per cent are trained which is a discouraging environment. The private sector is also investing a lot in the education sector. The government needs to encourage such efforts by putting in place effective mechanisms. Regarding the private sector’s involvement in education, the government has to develop a clear regulatory framework making private and public sector’s education complementary to each other. Information, Community Technology (ICT) has also been emerging as an inevitable part of higher education. However, the government is yet to translate it into a reality, says a government’s study on education sector.