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Giving Nepal’s Poorest Kids a Healthy Start

January 30, 2014

Umesh Basnet/World Bank

  • Government-run schools in Nepal have historically been poor performers, driving poor students out of the education system.
  • The government of Nepal's School Sector Reform Program, supported by the World Bank, is improving the access and quality of basic education, especially for children from marginalized groups.
  • Through the program, children now have access to better learning materials, textbooks, and trained teachers. Communities are involved in running the schools, increasing transparency and accountability.

Venture past the major bus park in Pokhara, Nepal and you are greeted with a sprawling community of landless dwellers. The slums are home to families from over 68 districts across Nepal, attracted by the promise of Pokhara city. Families here are among the poorest in the country, and represent many of the most marginalized communities.

In the middle of this slum sits Sahara Primary School, serving the children in this community. Nine-year-old Ranjit Nepali is a student in Grade 3 at the school. He lost his parents when he was young, and lives with his relatives. Despite difficult family circumstances, he is doing very well in his studies, topping his class year after year. At the school since nursery, Ranjit wants to become a doctor when he grows up.

“I like studying,” he says. “When I am free at home I do my homework, study, and wash my uniform.”

Government-run schools in Nepal have historically been poor performers, driving students like Ranjit out of the education system. However, reforms have been implemented over the years to make Nepali schools work for the children of the poorest. Early childhood education, enhancing access to marginalized groups, community management of schools, and enhancing the quality of education are all goals that various programs have instilled in the system.

The School Sector Reform Program (SSRP), an initiative of the government of Nepal, is a comprehensive program addressing the entirety of the school system in the country. The program aims to increase access to and improve quality of basic education (Grades 1-8), especially for children from marginalized groups.

The World Bank is supporting the School Sector Reform Program, and through it, schools like Sahara, with a $130 million International Development Association (IDA) credit. With resources pooled from eight other development partners, the program achieves donor harmonization, and a sustained, single strategy for extending the promise of education to all children in Nepal.

The program builds on previously successful initiatives such as community management of schools, in which Nepal’s experience has been exemplary.

“The Wall Speaks”

For the past 10 years, Shishu Kalyan Community Primary School in Kaski has been run by a school management committee consisting of teachers, parents, and community leaders. At this school, education is provided from nursery through grade 8 and, surprisingly for a government-run school in Nepal, the pass rate is 100%.

The school takes transparency and accountability seriously and has started a program called “The Wall Speaks.” Annual workplans, budgets, teacher attendance records and the list of members in the school management committee are all hung up on various walls for all to see.

“When this information is up on the wall, nobody needs to ask us to know this information. We make it easy for them,” says Mantri Lal Poudel, the principal at the school. 

SSRP’s goal is to achieve Education for All objectives. To achieve higher completion rates, the program is emphasizing early childhood development programs for pre-school children (ages 3-5). The nursery program at Sahara and Shishu Kalyan have been good ways to get children into school early, before they are able to contribute at home, and become valuable as laborers.

Sita, and her brothers and sisters, receive free education at their community-managed school. Children like Sita can dream of a better tomorrow, thanks to thousands of community-managed schools across Nepal.

World Bank Group

In addition, many of the children in these schools come from marginalized groups such as Dalits and Janajatis, and all of them are among the poorest in their community. The SSRP’s scholarship schemes for Dalits, marginalized groups, the disabled, girls, and children from poor households are valuable to the schools’ mission to impart quality education to these underserved communities in Pokhara.

Providing quality inputs

Student ambition, dedication and passion exist at both Sahara and Shishu Kalyan high schools. But these alone are not enough in achieving educational outcomes for the children. SSRP aims to encourage the traits that result in better educational outcomes, with sustained interventions.

The program focuses on providing better quality inputs (e.g. textbooks, learning materials, teacher guides), providing incentives to schools and students which are tied to performance measures, and improving the quality of teachers in school.

The program takes a decentralized approach which helps dedicated principals like Lochana Adhikari and Mantri Lal Poudel, allowing them to take charge of how the schools are run. They can also make use of resource centers, confer with other principals and bring in new approaches and methods to continuously improve the quality at their school.

Communities served by schools such as Sahara and Shishu Kalyan represent the last front in the initiative to extend primary education for all. The odds are stacked against them. Yet, with the right policies, leadership and sustained support, these schools can perform beyond expectations.

Last year, 90% of Sahara’s fifth graders passed and moved onto the second phase of their basic education, Grades 6-8, not offered at this school. At Shishu Kalyan, 100% of the children graduated Grade 8.

With stories of success such as Sahara’s replicated all over the country, it is no wonder that the School Sector Reform Program is performing beyond expectations. The net enrollment rate for basic education (Grades 1-8) has increased to 86.6%, surpassing program targets. More children are now completing grade 8, and Nepal has also achieved gender parity in basic education.

“If we can ensure that all Nepali children are able to read and write, and can do basic math, we will have come a long way in achieving the vision for education in the country,” says Saurav Bhatta, World Bank Task Team Leader for the SSRP.  The SSRP’s focus on access, as well as quality, is ensuring that more children enroll, and more of them graduate, having received the skills that will help them throughout their adult lives.