Real dropout reduction does not come easy…

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Retaining Kids at School a tough task”,School drop-out rate in Nepal ‘staggering”, were the headlines on 30th of January of two articles published respectively on The Himalayan Times and The Kathmandu Post on the occasion of the launch of a major report, published by UNICEF, UNESCO and World Bank.

The publication is an outcome of the Global Out of School Children Initiative “designed to accelerate efforts towards the goal of universal primary” by gaining a better picture of the phenomenon and by recommending new actions to overcome it.

The data collected for Nepal, also validated by the Flash Report 2012-2013 published by the Department of Education, proves that country in the last years has made an incredible progress in terms of school enrollment. Unfortunately this is not enough as only 69.4% of enrolled children make it to grade 8.

While this new global initiative might be useful in terms of offering better data and understanding of school dropout rate, I am afraid that Nepal is not in need of a new task force, as it was decided, in order to follow up on the report’s findings.

Certainly there is no harm in having another commission of experts looking at the issue but what is really missing is a political will to solve the problem. This implies determination, perseverance and long term commitment and farsighted planning capacities in tackling not only the drop out but also the issues of quality of the learning, social security and governance. It is all into ONE.

Indeed it is paramount to understand the complex dynamics and interplay of factors among education, poverty and community involvement in the school system.

Let’s start with quality. You might have a myriad of interesting training programs but the level of education of teachers is still too low and you can have all the trainings you want but still the problem is not going to be solved. The response so far has been only a “partial” solution and we need accept the current state of play.

We need to give credit to the Ministry of Education in coming up with standardized training formats but possibly more could be done to ensure effective teachers ‘performances by translating the knowledge acquired during the trainings in effective and engaging lessons’ plans.

Engaging, interesting and passionate classrooms are keys to create a strong interest among the students, motivating them to go extra mile.

You do not necessarily need to be educated at Oxford or Harvard to be a good teacher. What you need is something called passion. You need to love your job. Unfortunately teaching is often the only viable income generating activities for many young people living in rural areas.

If it teaching is not your vocation still you can get motivated, inspired, coached to love your job. Motivational trainings are quite a radical idea to change the educational landscape in Nepal. Let’s try to boost the morale of teachers not only with better financial incentives but also trough a strong MISSION TEACHING that should help these teachers discover their sense of purpose. This effort will help increase their self confidence and leadership’s skills in how to showcase and transfer vitality, energy and dynamism to the students.

Teaching or learning to teach also more practical knowledge and skills can also help motivating both teachers and students. This will increase the children’ understanding of school relevancy and can be useful in shaping their learning attitudes. It is encouraging that the Department of Education is piloting a revised curriculum with more skill life insights and practical learning.

Learning and Serving modules, basically how you can help the community while also bringing new knowledge back to the classroom are also essential. The child clubs so spread all over the country can play a very supportive role in this attempt.

Last but not the least as far as quality education is concerned, unfortunately the “grading system” that categorizes schools based on their performances, is basically in life support. While it should be made less focused on “hardware” and more on learning outcomes, it is a very interesting model, based on national benchmarks, to incentivize the schools, towards self improvement and an healthy competition (especially when financial awards are allocated to the best performing schools as it was supposed to be).

Of course relevant curriculum, quality teaching and enriching experiences can better motivate children to stay at school and learn better but they are not enough when poverty is persisting.

Here comes the integration of social security into education. I am a great supporter of scholarship that should be strongly linked to the still into a “gestating” national social protection system.

Scholarship, if well designed and substantial, can offer a game changer in order not only to increase the enrollment but also to give a major boost to retention rate.

The bottom line is that despite several national schemes for girls and dalits and children with disabilities not only the amount offered is a pittance, ( something ranging between 300 and 500 NRS in a year) but also its management is a total mess.

I remember in Kavre how the SMCs were used to split the money allocated to the schools for girls’ scholarship in order to offset the lack of funding necessary to cover the entire target groups. Imagine dividing a pittance of 500 NRS among 3 or 4 girls.

And definitely this “incorrect” use of public resources was for a good intention but you can understand when the aims are not so good, it is really easy to make mockery of the system.

And we go back to the overall management of the schools. Devolution of public education to the communities has been a great milestone but it requires a very strong oversight. Principals should be empowered to act as local ‘CEOs’: they need to be more accountable but also they must be awarded in case of tangible improvements in terms of enrollment, retention and learning performances.

The role of Resource Persons should be drastically changed: either they are empowered to take action or simply be considered as TOTs, nothing more and nothing else. It is an irony that School Supervisors are always confined in the District Education Offices.

As you can see it is a long shot to reduce dropout rates. The policies are there, some commitments are definitely there too. New reports and new inputs are welcome but we do not need reinvent the wheel every time. Just we need solid determination, perseverance in a holistic manner.



Good luck to Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority that recently started investigating cases of corruption in the educational system.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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