Uprooting illiteracy in two years: Needs relevant laws soon

The government is mulling derecognising thumb impressions on government and other documents. This move is aimed at encouraging everyone to be literate. However, this rule will not be applicable to those above 60 years of age

Development is possible only when there is satisfactory progress in the field of education. Although much headway has been made in the field of education in Nepal since 2007 BS (1951 AD), when the literacy rate was abysmally low at just 2 per cent, the country is still struggling to meet the target of eliminating illiteracy altogether. In fiscal year 2065/66, the government had announced the target of extirpating illiteracy in two years by initiating the National Literacy Campaign. At the time, the number of illiterates stood at 7.8 million. As the target could not be met by the stipulated deadline, the government introduced the Literate Nepal Campaign (2069-072 BS) aimed at eliminating illiteracy by 2015 AD, the last year of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and decided to declare fiscal year 2071-72 BS as the illiteracy elimination year. But the government missed the target again.

At present, under the federal structure of governance, all the three tiers of government are working towards eliminating illiteracy from the country in two years’ time. Now the responsibility for managing all the schools at the local level falls on the shoulders of local governments. The patterns of monitoring or evaluating the schools have changed under the changed circumstances. The local governments have been assigned to formulate education acts, policies and procedures; to take upon themselves the management of teachers, including their recruitment and dismissal; and to embark upon various educational campaigns. Initially, the local governments were in a state of bemusement as to how to manage the schools. Now they are gradually picking up the thread.

The local governments are mandated to manage basic and secondary education that includes classes from ECD (early childhood development) to class 12 as stipulated in the constitution. Provincial governments are concerned with provincial universities, higher education, libraries and museums, while the federal government looks after the central university, central-level academies, university standards and regulations, and the central library.  Despite such provision in the constitution, no relevant laws are in place. Federal and provincial education acts are yet to be enacted. So it is high time the relevant laws were enacted at the earliest to make it easier for the local governments to work.

As part of the campaign to eliminate illiteracy, continuing and adult education programmes are being run across the country in line with the Education for All Campaign, which was implemented in 2000 AD after supporting the Education for All Campaign at the World Education Forum. As per the spirit of the programme, alternative education is imparted to school-going children who are out of school, while adult education is imparted to people above 15 years of age. As a result of the government’s efforts, 51 districts have been declared literate districts so far. And eight districts, including Kathmandu, which have attained over 95 per cent literacy, will be declared as such soon. The remaining 18 districts will be declared literate in two years. In fact, the campaign for adult literacy started way back in the first periodic plan (2013-18 BS) during the Panchayat era. An action-based literacy concept linking literacy to livelihoods was floated in 2022 BS. In 2037 BS, the Adult Education Branch was established within the Ministry of Education to give momentum to adult education. Later, the Seti Education Project made some improvements in running adult literacy programmes. The programmes gained momentum in 2045 BS, when they were run district-wise, culminating in the implementation of the Education for All Campaign in 2000 AD.

Since the local governments are required to manage continuing and adult education, they are supposed to make door-to-door surveys to determine the number of illiterates in their areas. For this, they have to mobilise volunteers or other interested persons. The federal government has clearly said that such programmes will not be operated by it.

The government is mulling derecognising thumb impressions on government and other documents. This move is aimed at encouraging everyone to be literate. However, it is not necessary for those above 60 years of age to be literate, and this rule, if ever it comes into effect, will not be applicable to such people. However, the three tiers of government should see to it that no child will be left unenrolled in school and that there will be no school dropout. In the rural areas, there are still children who are unable to attend school for various reasons, such as poverty, compulsion to look after younger siblings at home or compulsion to do household chores. Although some children are taken under the guardianship of the state, it is not enough. The government should take the initiative in attaining 100 per cent enrolment in schools. As for uneducated adults, they should be persuaded to take classes at their convenience.

As the deadline for attaining 100 per cent literacy has been missed multiple times, the government should make concerted efforts through the local governments to achieve the target in two years. And the provincial governments should help the local governments in this noble mission by formulating appropriate policy and programmes and making adequate budgetary arrangements.