- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu
With the presidential seal, the government’s Free and Compulsory Education Act came into effect on Tuesday, making the state responsible for ensuring that no child is deprived of school education.
According to the new law, local governments have to make sure that every child from 5 to 12 years of age is enrolled—and receives a free education—at public schools.
Sep 19, 2018-
The Act, which was endorsed by the federal parliament on Sunday to meet statutory obligation, also puts the onus on local governments to educate orphan children. While enforcing the compulsory education provision, the law bars anyone without the basic education (eighth-grade level) by April 2028 from taking jobs at any government or non-government agencies and from seeking public position.
Although the newly authenticated law focuses on increasing children’s access to education, it puts little emphasis on boosting the quality of education. Government reports show a deteriorating quality of education while the dropout rate continues to rise. Records at the Ministry of Education show that net enrolment rate for basic education has gone up to 97 percent.
If the government’s records are anything to go by, hardly three percent of the students below 12 years are out of school. The United Nations Human Development Index report puts Nepal ahead of most South Asian countries in net enrolment.
However, in the lack of adequate funding and proper policy for quality education, the poor show of students continues to increase. Furthermore, the lack of such provisions in the new Act suggests the government lacks the far-sightedness to focus on quality rather than quantity, likely eroding further the performance of enrolled students.
Pramod Bhatta, who has researched the state of education for Martin Chautari, says the government needs to develop standards and indicators of quality education first and incorporate them in the laws. “Sadly, no steps have been taken to this effect so far,” Bhatta told the Post. “Despite our suggestions, the quality issue has been missing from the new Act as well.”
A recent report by the Education Review Office under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which does quality testing at the school level to measure students’ achievements, shows the quality of education dropped considerably in 2017 from the 2013 standards.
The study, conducted among 46,266 eighth grade students at 1,950 public and private schools in 26 districts, shows the performance of students in Mathematics has slipped from 508 in 2013 to 492 in 2017. The research was conducted using a multi-stage sampling technique and Item Response Theory, in which 500 has been taken as the mean value of performance.
The number reflects the average performance in the scale that ranges from 0 to 1,000. The average performance of the students in Science dropped from 502 in 2013 to 499 during the same period.
Another research conducted by the same office among the fifth graders in 2016 shows learning achievement of third and fifth graders in English, Nepali, and Math is below 50 percent.
This means the students were able to grasp just 50 percent of what was taught in classrooms. It showed that the learning achievement went down 14 percent on an average from 2011 to 2016.
The picture is no different if the results at the School Leaving Certificate (SLC)--now referred to as the Secondary Education Examination (SEE)--examinations are taken into account. Over 68 percent students got through the test in 2009, the passing rate decreased to 48 percent in 2016. With growing criticism of the rising failure rate in the SEE, the government has adopted a letter grading system since last year, which doesn’t denote pass or fail.
“While increasing access to education is crucial, enhancing the quality of education and decreasing the dropout rate is equally important,” Binay Kusiyat, an independent researcher based in Kathmandu, told the Post. He argues that the spirit of compulsory education is to increase student participation and a student’s participation is possible only when there is assurance of quality education.
Kusiyat said the new Act was implemented only to meet the constitutional obligations, without vision for improving school education.
A biennial report published by the Center for Education and Human Resource Development 2017 showed that only 74.3 percent of the children enrolled in the first grade reach the fifth grade, while 45 percent quit school before completing basic education. Just about 40 percent of students reach the tenth grade.
A calculation of the differences in the numbers of students enrolled in grade one a decade ago with those taking Secondary Education Examination gives a broader picture of the dropout rate of the students in 10 years of their schooling.
Records at the centre showed that as many as 1.34 million students were enrolled in around 34,000 public and private schools in 2006. However, just 538,000 students took the SEE last year. This shows some 796,000 students--around 60 percent of the total enrolled in 2006--left school before reaching the tenth grade.
Bhatta says the government should work to create an education fund and raise money by imposing nominal education tax at the customs. The government has been raising billions of rupees in the name of environmental protection by taxing petroleum imports. “There are many ways money can be generated to fund for improving the quality of education,” Bhatta added.