EDITORIAL: Retain girls in school

A good school is a step towards reducing school drop-outs among girls and postponing their marriage until the marriageable age

A girl, especially in the rural areas, is expected to drop out of school when she gets married. But in many villages of Nepal today, a girl is expected to opt for marriage when she graduates from secondary school. Girls are unable to continue with their studies not due to marriage, which is normally the case in the far-flung districts of the country, but because there is no school with grades XI and XII, or plus-two, in the vicinity of their village. In many villages of Bajura district of Sudurpaschim Province in far west Nepal, for instance, most of the girls after finishing class 10 are already married at age 16, regardless of the fact that the legal age for marriage in Nepal is 20 years for both boys and girls, although they can marry at age 18 with parental consent. The parents can ill afford to send their daughters for further education away from the villages as this involves money for food and lodging in a hostel. The parents may also not see much value in the education their daughters are getting in school with poor infrastructure. So for them, it makes sense to get their daughters married off at an early age.

Child marriage is a problem in Nepali society, and one way of staving off early marriage is to keep girls in school as long as it is possible. That is why the government, in partnership with the donor community and non-governmental organisations, has been promoting girls’ education in the country. The enrollment campaigns have been highly successful in enrolling especially girls in schools. Scholarships, school dress, free textbooks and small subsidies to families sending girls to school are some of the incentives promoted by the government to keep girls in school. Despite these incentives, however, there are other factors that tend to keep girls away from school, leading to early drop-outs. The absence of a proper bathroom with water for girl students forces them to miss classes during the menstrual period. Many schools do not even have a bathroom, let alone a proper one, and hence they must go to the nearby jungles to relieve themselves. Add to this the ordeal of living in a chhaupadi hut away from home during the menstrual period. As a result, girls are said to miss as many as 35 days in a school academic year, severely impacting the learning process.

It would be naïve to expect rhetoric, half-hearted campaigns and a handful of incentives to retain girls in school, with the hope of keeping early marriage at bay. Poverty, inequality, and lack of economic and social opportunities also keep girls away from school and contribute to child marriage. But a good school is a step towards reducing school drop-outs among girls and postponing their marriage until the marriageable age. Now that the local level has been entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing basic and secondary education, it must ensure quality education and the minimum facilities with the resources it has. Since it will not be feasible to make plus-two classes accessible to all in the rural areas immediately, the state and other stakeholders must intervene to build hostels so that girls and boys can complete the higher secondary level at reasonable fees.

Respect norms

Repeated bids by private colleges to seek the arbitration of the Supreme Court to resolve issues that are in contravention of the regulations of the universities they are affiliated to will not promote quality education in Nepal. In less than a month, the Supreme Court has intervened in the form of a diktat, which allows unqualified students to sit for the university exams. The apex court has allowed 32 Indian students, who did not pass the entrance exam of the Institute of Medicine, as duly required by Tribhuvan University, to sit for the undergraduate medical examinations. Earlier, the SC, through another verdict in April, had ordered Pokhara University to allow 344 students with D grades who got admission to private colleges, in violation of the university norms, to sit for the management course exams.

The constant intrusion by the court in the functioning of the universities will only breed anarchy in the education sector. It is no secret that private colleges in Nepal are mostly commercial ventures with little regard for quality education. When private colleges and students can take recourse to the courts of law to circumvent the regulations of a university they are affiliated to, then this defeats the very purpose of maintaining academic excellence.