Nepal: Bringing the Poorest into Schools

September 22, 2009

  • In 1951 there were only 10,000 children in primary and secondary schools.
  • In 2001, Nepal's Parliament passed new laws to transfer schools back to community management.
  • From 2003 to 2009, net primary enrollment rose from 84% to 92%.

September 22, 2009 - By the mid-20th century, 20 out of Nepal’s only 22 high schools were built, financed, and managed by local communities. Successive governments continued this model, treating education as a partnership with communities. In 1972, however, the government took over the more than 8,000 existing schools. Because of the country’s remoteness and diversity—and weak government capacity—results were disastrous. Teachers regularly abandoned classrooms, the government was not able to provide adequate financing while community resources dried up, and quality plummeted.

Finally, in 2001, Members of Parliament passed new laws to transfer schools back to community management. But 30 years of neglect had taken a heavy toll. Literacy rates were only 52%, compared 61% among low-income countries around the world.

The World Bank-financed Community School Support Project was launched in 2003 to help reform the defunct public school system. The first approach was to encourage communities to take back the management of schools, by providing a one-time government incentive grant. The second was to transform the role of the Government from that of a provider of education to a facilitator. Both approaches aimed to increase both the demand and supply for education in parallel. Moreover, it aimed to improve not only the quality and relevance of the curriculum, but also the capacity of the Government agencies tasked with facilitating the system.

The results of these reforms have been encouraging. From 2003 to 2009, net primary enrollment rose from 84% to 92%. Gender parity improved from 83% to 98% during the same period. More than 9,000 schools transferred to community management. At the current rate, the goal of achieving community management for all public schools by 2015 appears attainable.

Nepal should be proud of its accomplishments in the education sector,” said Susan Goldmark, World Bank Country Director for Nepal. “In 1951 there were only 10,000 children in primary and secondary schools. Now there are more than 7 million students in more than 30,000 schools throughout the country.

The lessons learned from the Community School Support Project was mainstreamed into Nepal’s Education for All Project which was launched in July 2004, adopting a Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp), which harmonized donor support to the entire education sector.

On September 22, 2009, the World Bank continued its support to the education sector, approving a $130 million IDA credit to help meet Nepal’s Education for All goals. This School Sector Reform Program is the main vehicle for the implementation of a 15 year National Program of Action and World Bank funding will meet a slice of expenditures – both recurrent and development - covering all of school education. It was designed by the Government of Nepal with a focus on the three pillars of Access, Inclusion and Quality. The program is also supported by eight other development partners who have pooled their resources with the Government of Nepal.

Much more still remains to be done so that schools provide each child with the skills needed to find good jobs and succeed. That is what this partnership with the Ministry of Education and development partners strives to accomplish.” said Goldmark.

As a school sector wide approach, the program will finance salaries and benefits for nearly 120,000 government school teachers. It will also finance salaries of around 100,000 community recruited teachers through salary grants. Financing for all additional teachers to be recruited during the program period will be made through a per capita child financing formula that takes into account the number of students enrolled in a particular school.

The program plans to address the problem of uneven deployment of teachers by providing incentives for teachers to transfer from schools that that have too many teachers to those with too few. The program will also finance a range of activities intended to ensure equitable access and quality basic education for all children in the age group 5-12, prepare pre-school age children for basic education through Early Childhood Education Development and deliver basic numeracy and literacy to youth and adults, especially women.

Because earlier programs were so successful, the demand for quality schooling beyond primary level has soared. To meet this demand and to provide children with skills to prepare them for a life of work, Nepal is now combining the primary and lower secondary cycles to form a basic education cycle of grades 1-8 and a secondary cycle of grades 9-12. Community management will remain at the heart of the program. The Government of Nepal will continue to build on the foundation of community ownership of schools and co-finance with the communities – mainly through per capita financing and matching grant incentives – to raise sufficient resources towards achieving universal access at this level.

The World Bank has been a partner to the development of Nepal’s education sector for over 30 years through a series of national programs. These include the Basic and Primary Education Projects I and II, the Community School Support Program, the Education for All Program, and the Higher Education Project I and II.