Nearly a third of Nepal's children don't attend primary school, over half are not in secondary school and more than two-thirds of the adult population is illiterate. So it's no surprise that Nepal's rulers have been given failing grades by a recent comparison of education in Asian countries. The study, Must Do Better, is published by the Global Campaign for Education and the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education. It is designed to resemble an actual school report card.
It uses five indicators to analyse how 14 countries in the Asia Pacific region provide complete basic education, giving grades like 'A' and 'B' for each category. Overall, Nepal ranks 11th.
The indicators are based on the fundamental principle that it is the responsibility of the state to fulfil the basic rights of all its citizens to provide free basic education of good quality, the document says.
Must Do Better features a page for each country, with rankings below a photo of each nation's head of state. While Thailand's Thaksin Shinawatra is shown smiling next to an overall grade of 'A' and a big yellow star, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, Nepal's King Gyanendra, Papua New Guinea's Michael Somare and the Solomon Island's Allan Kemakeza are all labelled 'F' for their dismal performances.
Must Do Better assesses not just the countries but also their heads of states in order to name and shame them. And since Nepal is such a poor performer, King Gyanendra is singled out for blame.
Nepal's rulers, the report says, lack the political will to improve the quality of education, make schooling accessible to all by removing fees and there is an acute lack of attention to female education. This is nothing new to Nepalis who have suffered poor public education for decades but it is the first time we can compare how badly we are doing next to countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Most education experts say disrupting and shutting down schools doesn't solve any problems. A much more constructive approach would be to work together to improve the quality of instruction in government schools and replicate best-practice models of handing over schools to community management. Teachers need to be motivated so that they are more creative and do not just indulge in 'chalk talk'.
Must Do Better recommends that the Nepal government make primary education its first priority-an argument that educators here have often made and that the state has consistently ignored. The report also stresses the need for a strong secondary education system and making adult literacy an integral component of basic education. School fees should be eliminated to achieve education for all.
The five indicators also help evaluate whether governments are paying special attention to the quality of education. Here, Nepal receives a miserable 'D' for items such as providing adequately paid and trained teachers, quality learning materials, safe schools and favourable learning environments.
In contrast, the report says, 'Sri Lanka's leadership is truly serious about meeting its promise of education for all. Primary school age children are in school, access to secondary schooling is admirable, adult illiteracy is steadily being reduced (and) public basic education is completely free'.
Nepal also ranks poorly for gender equality in education and if it is any consolation we are only just ahead of countries like China, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands. Monitoring gender parity in classrooms alone is not sufficient, the report reminds us, there has to be much more proactive enrolment of children.
The publication uses UNESCO's composite indicators, which track school enrolments, survival rates of girls in schools and if a country's education system promotes gender equality by enabling women to be active, equal participants in all spheres of life.
Its results are a wake-up call to civil society and organisations that regularly monitor, critique and evaluate the government's performance. It is time to move beyond mass education and focus also on quality, gender equality and equity across gender, ethnic, caste and rural-urban divides.
Remedial classes anyone?
Must Do Better, Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (www.aspbae.org) and Global Campaign for Education (www.campaignforeducation.org) 2005.