This Review of the Education For All (EFA) programme in Nepal was commissioned by the Finnish Embassy on behalf of the group of supporting donors and undertaken by a team of consultants contracted by International Alert. The intention is to examine the EFA programme in relation to conflict and the current political crisis. Over a period of a month the team reviewed the relevant literature, visited the Mid-West and East, and engaged in consultation with stakeholders in Nepal. Using a methodology based on the Strategic Conflict Assessment of DFID, factors relating to conflict have been addressed in three main categories- social, economic and political exclusion. A fourth category relates to security factors, or the immediate effects of violence. In accordance with the Terms of Reference the team has focused more on the impact of education on conflict rather than the impact of conflict on education.
The Review concludes that the design of the EFA programme is directly aimed at issues of exclusion and therefore is a highly appropriate response to conflict. Among the instruments available to donors it may be one of the most suitable at the current time. It reflects many of the DAC Principles for working in Fragile States. The Review recommends continued funding at current levels. There are, however, a number of serious deficiencies in implementation and donors could focus their efforts in relation to the EFA programme more sharply ‘on’ conflict.
The EFA programme has been relatively successful in distributing scholarships to dalits but the amount actually received is commonly half what was intended and very small in relation to the overall cost of education. Scholarships are nowhere near enough to compensate for the loss of labour when children are sent to school. With government staff rarely if ever visiting schools, ostensibly because of the conflict, there is ample scope for patronage especially in the case of scholarships for ‘50 percent of poorer girls’. In practice, resources are focused on the District towns while interior areas are neglected.
There has been considerable progress in primary-level enrolment, and there is now good representation of minorities and girls, but many classrooms are extremely overcrowded. The system for appointing and transferring teachers is inflexible, non-transparent and ineffective. There are now serious imbalances in the spread of teachers, with classes of over a hundred common in the terai (plains) while classes in hilly and mountain areas may typically have less than ten children.
School Management Committees have little alternative but to employ additional teachers, often paid for by contributions from parents and remunerated at far below the official rate. These additional hires count for 19 percent of all teachers. Teachers’ unions are alienated by this spread of low-paid and informally-contracted employment. Overcrowding has also led communities to construct extra classrooms by raising funds locally; usually by imposing a levy per student. There is a risk that poorer children may be excluded, although these negative effects appear to be counteracted to a considerable extent by increasingly positive attitudes towards education.
Although School Management Committees constitute an important step towards decentralization, their budgets are so small that they have little freedom of choice. Virtually the entire budget has to be devoted to fixed costs. They prepare School Improvement Plans for presentation to the District Education Officer, but the process of decision-making is non-consultative and lacks transparency. The District Education Officers, for their part, complain that they are given arbitrary budgets by the government, without meaningful consultation or relationship to the needs of particular areas.
Problems of implementation reduce the programme’s ability to address social and economic exclusion. But the conflict itself has moved into a more overtly political phase focused around political rather than social and economic exclusion. Many of the problems in EFA implementation arise not simply from resource constraints but from an almost complete lack of functioning consultative processes. The problem of overcrowding cannot be addressed because teachers have adamantly opposed transfers of staff and greater devolution of power, as in the case of Community Managed Schools. For their part, local communities feel that government is not sharing with them the cost of rising expectations. They note that officials rarely visit the schools and that when they are called to the District town it is to be talked at rather than discussed with.
There has been little real consultation with representative groups, notably teachers, communities and organisations concerned with the rights of minorities. The agenda within the EFA programme revolves around a narrow debate between donors, officials and a few academics. This has led to a focus on issues that are peripheral in relation to current causes of dissatisfaction and conflict. For example, groups representing dalits and janjatis are concerned about the issue of wider representation within the educational system rather than being assigned restricted roles relating to their ethnicity or social status.
Such groups call for attention to deeper problems. There is an increasing divide between government and private schools and a deep social division between those educated in Nepali language and those educated in English. This is not simply because English is increasingly a requirement for higher-paid employment. The education system delivers success to those who study in English and failure to those who study in Nepali. The success rate for children from private schools in the School Leaving Certificate examination is about 80 percent while the success rate for children from government schools is only 20 percent. In order to sit for the examination, children have to pass through ten years of schooling with internal examinations at each stage. The rate of repetition and drop-out is very high indeed, especially in Grade 1 with nearly half the children having to repeat the Grade or dropping out. Only 16 percent of children complete primary education and the number is further reduced in the five further secondary Grades before the SLC exam. Thus, less than one child in twenty who enters the state education system achieves the basic pass.
The reasons for failure in the SLC examination relate to deficiencies in government schools and in the examination system rather than any fault of the children. Most children from government schools faced with a practical test in science will inevitably fail if their school had no laboratory or scientific equipment.
They fail in English because it was not used regularly in the classroom, and the expected standard is now based more on the practice of private schools where English is the medium of instruction. If they fail in one subject, they fail the whole SLC. Such children have good reason to blame the system, and may leave school in a state of anger and frustration.
Why do failures of implementation persist? Few officials now send their children to government schools – a fifth of children now attend private schools and the proportion is increasing. Officials have no personal stake in the state education system. But a more fundamental problem is the distrust characterizing all current relations between officials and people. A more open and consultative style of government would undoubtedly improve matters. Better relationships could be established with teachers’ unions and other representative groups. The issue of imbalance in teacher distribution could then be addressed.
Some observers consider that such fundamental changes will have to wait until the political crisis is resolved. Grievances are becoming intensely politicised and there is a tendency to want to blame government rather than solve problems. But this argument can be turned the other way. The education sector could play a leading role in conflict transformation by demonstrating consultative and inclusive behaviour and by creating forums for discussion about such pressing issues as privatization, English language education and examination failure.
Donors should move from working ‘in’ conflict to working ‘on’ conflict. This means that they should:
- Address short-term deficiencies through collective action by the pooling group, notably-
- Publish the TRSE monitoring reports
- Develop a specific dialogue with teacher representatives about over crowding and community-managed schools
- Encourage all political parties to develop policies on education
2. As a medium-term strategy orientate joint activity towards conflict transformation by adopting a set of principles covering such issues as information-sharing, consultation and accountability
3. Develop a long-term strategy based on encouraging and supporting a debate about changes in education, notably overcrowding, allocation of teachers, examination failure and language of instruction
4. Continue to fund the EFA programme at current levels
5. In addition, continue to support infrastructural improvement through NGOs but putting greater emphasis on coordination as a means of state-building