Unit 2:The Nepal Challenge

Welcome to Unit 2.

The previous unit introduced you to some important concepts and issues including, Child Centred Development as a goal, Quality Education as a tool to achieve the goal, and The Millennium Development Goals as targets and indicators.

This Unit explores some of the results of 15 years post MDGs, and specifically examines Nepal’s attempts to achieve the MDG #2.

Section 1 MDG Achievements

Let’s begin by looking at some results globally for the achievement of the MDGs overall. This data is taken from the UN website:

FullSizeRender-12FullSizeRender-1These are all remarkable achievements, and the one of particular interest to us is as follows:

“The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015 down from 100 million in 2000.”

This is the statement relating to Universal Primary Education which had some pre stated indicators. Remember them?

  1. Net enrolment ratio in primary education

2. Proportion of pupils starting Grade 1 who reach Grade 5

3. Literacy rate of 15-24 year olds

So, let’s now look at the short summary data globally from the 2015 UN report, here it is:


UN Goal 2 Report


Look at the summary data above, how would you review it?

  1. How is “success” being measured?

2. What does “out of school children” mean or refer to!

3. Are all three indicators mentioned?

4. If one is missing, why might that be!


Now go here to download the report for further data on this: MDG 2015 Report

What you should have noted here is that there is no mention of completion rates. Plenty of notes about children enrolling in school, but little or nothing about the numbers of children who complete school. This is the global challenge, and this is where the role of Quality Education becomes most significant?

Now let’s look in detail at Nepal as a case study.

Section 2 Nepal MDG Achievements

Now let’s have a look at Nepal’s performance against these targets and indicators. We are very familiar with Nepal having worked there in education for 10 years and tried to engage with the Ministry of Education on many of the issues we will raise.

From the UNESCO country data here are two graphics purely about Nepal to examine. Take your time, what do you see?


Here are the key facts we would extract from the UNESCO data for Nepal:

  1. The Net Enrolment rate for 2012 showed that 97% of children enrolled in primary school. This was a 7% increase since 2004, a figure we shall return to later.

2. The Survival rate of these children to the last grade of primary school at 2012 was 55%.

3. The proportion of children who then continued to secondary school was 86%

Let’s state this a different way:

  1. Imagine 100 Nepali children enrol in primary Grade 1.

2. Then, 45 of them drop out before Grade 5 leaving 55 at the end of this grade.

3. Next, only 47 of them enter secondary school to continue their education (86% primary to secondary transition), so another 8 have dropped out.

We are forced to ask a further question at this stage. “If you were in a group of 100 mothers in a Nepali village about to send your only child to primary school, how would you like to be told that there are at least 53 mothers whose child will not complete Nepal’s compulsory education programme”.

In summary, only 43% of Nepali children who enrol at primary level begin secondary level schooling! Is this something to celebrate and what has caused it?

Section 3 Nepal Education Policy & Strategy

In 2009 the Nepal Ministry of Education published their new education development strategy called the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP).

It was a major policy document outlining major policy changes in education and targeting major system change. It was ambitious, and it was expensive! It had a budget/aid requirement of $4 billion!

I’ll write that out in words, Four Billion Dollars!

In numbers it’s $4,000,000,000. Quite a lot really.

In Nepali currency at current rates it’s around 400,000,000,000 NRs.

For that kind of money Nepal should be able to put it’s education system into the Top 10 globally.


If you want to read a full copy you can read it here School Sector Reform Plan


So what were some of the main features of this new strategy?

School Sector Reform Plan

These are extracts from the SSRP published at the end of 2009 with a completion target of 2015

1. Introduction

SSRP is a long term strategic plan. It is the continuation of other ongoing programmes. It has an emphasis on access for all and the effectiveness of education delivery.

Table of Key Indicators:

• Pupil/Teacher Ratio: From 44 to 34

• Survival rate Grade 5: From 54% to 90%

• Learning Achievement (Exam pass rate): From 50% to 80%

• Total cost over 7 years of $4 Billions.

•Initial pilot in 3 districts, Dadeldhura, Kapilvastu, Rasuwa in 2009/10, 100% completion by 2012!!!

2. Basic Education

• Goal:

•To ensure access to quality education and to promote child friendly environments in schools.

• Quality:

• To use flexible learning approaches.

• To implement continuous assessment and remedial support.

• Key Results:

• 13,000 schools and classrooms refurbished to meet minimum standards

• Quality Focus:

•Physical Environment Improvement; Improve conditions of buildings,

ensure adequate classrooms, boy/girl toilets, drinking water, playground.

•Learning Environment Improvement; Need qualified and trained teachers

improve the curriculum and textbook materials, increase teachers time on task to

100%, add extra curricular activities.

“There is an incentive scheme in place to motivate schools to improve!”


  1. What is your opinion of these main features of the SSRP?

2. Do they seem adequate to achieve the targets of the MDGs?

3. What do you feel is lacking?

Section 4 Quality Education in Nepal


  1. Take a few minutes to think about Quality Education, especially at primary level. What is it, can you define it?

2. Is it something you receive as a student?

3. Is it something you achieve as a goal?

4. Is it something you deliver as a teacher?

Write down a few notes on your views now.

The SSRP mentions the term “quality education” 84 times in its 128 pages.  Clearly a key focus or desired outcome of the SSRP was quality education.

But nowhere can we find a clear definition of it nor a method by which it will be measured or judged. Similarly therefore we cannot identify any targeted activities which might lead to achieving it. In other words, “if you don’t know where you are going, how can you know how to get there, and how will you know when you have arrived?”

At this stage we are only critiquing the document, which in our opinion (and stated in 2010), was ill judged and lacking in any of the well known methodologies for changing whole “systems”, or specifically for changing education systems. (More in Module 4)


Imagine you were in charge of changing the quality of education in 10 schools in your town. List any THREE things you would be most likely to try and improve? (We realise this is hypothetical, just use your imagination and generalise, because everything can be improved!)


Quite probably in your list you might have:

  1. Teacher quality, skills, performance

2. The teaching process, methods, tools

3. The curriculum, content, standards

Now, here are some “facts” about primary education in Nepal and attempts to develop it 2009-15:

  1. The teaching profession is highly politicised with most government teachers belonging to a political party who utilise them for political agitation.

2. Teachers have jobs for life, they cannot be fired.

3. The minimum requirement educationally to become a teacher is to have reached Grade 10, (now increased to Grade 10+2). The UK equivalent is GCSE/A Level.

4. Teacher commitment to professionalism and professional development is exceptionally low. Attending training courses is seen as a means for free lunches and high expenses. Implementation of learning is negligible.

5. Rote learning, or more correctly teacher centred learning is common. Teachers read from books, write on the blackboard, children copy things down into exercise books called “copy books”. Assessment is entirely summative.

6. There is no performance management system and Principals are virtually powerless. In many cases they are untrained in modern management or governance.

7. Textbooks are centrally published by a single monopoly supplier to government. Every year since 2010 many children have not received textbooks until half way through the academic year.

8. Government attempts at teacher training have been sporadic, of low quality, carried out by low quality trainers, instructor based and completely outmoded. Little or no focus on skill development, no in-school follow up with coaching, and no evaluation of implementation.

Now, this is a damning list. Not only was the SSRP inadequate, but attempts to improve the education system were ill judged and unprofessional. And yet, the enrolment rate improved, or did it? Well it did go up by 12% from 2004 to 2012, but the rise was probably less than this from 2008 when SSRP was launched. So what might have contributed?

Well how about this …….. as part of the strategy children were PAID to enrol in school! Yes, paid!! So if you were a poor villager or farmer in Nepal, struggling to feed your family, would you send your 5 year old child to enrol in school if you were paid? Probably, yes!

But what would happen at the end of that year, or when you realised that the child was more valuable to you working in the home, caring for siblings, or working in the fields! Would the child complain about being taken out of school if they had to sit in a cold and dusty classroom, in lines, listening to a teacher talking and reading all day, with no chance to ask questions, no discussion or interaction with classmates, no learning resources?

What  was the $4,000,000,000 spent on then? Where did it all go if there was no real improvement in the actual quality of education?

The final damning quote about the SSRP comes from a government official who is now part of a new programme, the School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) seeking further $billions:

“Educationist Vishnu Karki said SSRP helped provide resources to schools . Now, SSDP will focus on utilization of those resources.”

“While trying to improve student performance, we increased the number of teachers, built schools and made textbooks free. Later, we realized that all this was peripheral and the main focus should have been on what students learn,” said Karki.

So, to use these damning words in conclusion, it is the LEARNING ENVIRONMENT that matters most, the psychological environment NOT the physical environment. Quality Education must be understood and used as a tool to improve the quality of the learning environment so that:

  1. Children will want to go to school, without payment.

2. They will want to remain in school because it’s fun to learn.

3. They will receive an education which develops them to their full potential.

4. Enrolment rates and completion rates will be close to 100%

5. Child Centred Development will have been achieved

The next module will move away from Nepal and introduce you to several models or frameworks for quality education that could be used in any developing country. Click here for Unit 3:The UNICEF Approach to Quality