Useless: Forms, textbooks, and materials meant for adult literacy classes in Bajhang lie in a pile of waste at a teacher’s home
If government records are to be believed, 21 VDCS of the remote hill district of Bajhang in western Nepal boast near 100 per cent literacy. And district education officer, Jagannath Upadhyay, claims the remaining 26 VDCs will become fully literate within a year.
Volunteers and monitors, however, are skeptical about the scope and effectiveness of the literacy drives. More than Rs 80 million – from state coffers and donor agencies – has been splurged on the campaign in Bajhang so far, out of which nearly Rs 30 million was spent in the past two years alone. For the fiscal year 2012/13, the District Education Offiice's (DEO) report states Rs 1.95 million was spent on training 791 volunteers and 45 inspectors, an additional Rs 6 million was earmarked as ‘volunteer encouragement allowance’, Rs 750,000 was used for inspecting classes, Rs 2 million on stationery, and Rs. 1.8 million on transportation and textbooks.
For a person to be considered literate, she must be able to read and write short and simple sentences in Nepali, perform simple mathematical calculations, and know how to use the internet and cell phones. However, almost all the villagers we talked to, were infuriated when they found out what was going on behind their backs. Leave alone operating mobiles, they say they cannot even sign their own names and have to still rely on fingerprints.
“Isn’t it amazing how illiterate villagers have become literate overnight without reading a single book?” questions Mangal Bahadur Khadka, a social worker involved in literacy programs in the district.
According to official documents, 555 women and 236 men participated in adult literacy classes for Deulek VDC in the previous fiscal year. But long time resident, Birma Devi Kami, says she has never heard about such classes. Another local, Khiru Khadka, said: “We are illiterate, not ignorant. We know that officials are lying about the literacy campaign and siphoning off money in our name.” Both their names are listed in the ‘literate’ roster.
Similarly, the DEO report from Hemantawada VDC shows 871 individuals were taught to read and write last year for which 58 female volunteer teachers were mobilised. The village is considered ‘100 per cent literate’. However, resident Parvati Oli claims most volunteers did not even conduct a single class.
Speaking anonymously, a volunteer admitted that she has been receiving a stipend without teaching for the last three years. “Everybody does the same, so why should I bother?” she added without hesitation. Most of the textbooks that she was given to distribute to students have either been sold or have piled up in a corner of her house.
Other teachers argue that locals are simply not interested in learning. Pushpa Jethara, a volunteer in Kailash-9, says she waited fruitlessly for two weeks before cancelling classes. Sharmila Singh, a volunteer from Kailash-7, claims she went door-to-door asking people to join the literacy class, but all of them turned her down. “Villagers told me they had no time for lessons because they had to work and some even said there is no point in learning to read and write. I lost my enthusiasm after a week,” states Singh.
In Kailash, another VDC listed as fully literate, 657 participants are shown to have attended classes conducted by 43 volunteers. “The government’s literacy program exists only on paper, nobody wants to teach us,” explains Logpal Singh from Kailash-4,” who is registered as literate. “I am learning to write my name with the help of my children because it is such a basic skill.”
According to former head of Kailash, Surat Bahadur Singh, while a few women took classes, most locals are still illiterate. District education officer Upadhyay, on the other hand, says it does not matter if ‘a few locals’ did not participate. “It is internationally established that a VDC with 95 per cent literacy is fully literate,” he claims.
The literacy campaigns are being conducted through various high schools, community learning centres, and NGOs in the district. These institutions were supposed to provide five-day orientation to their volunteer teachers, but cut short the training to only two days. Volunteers and inspectors complain that they got less than their promised salary, but no one lodged a formal complaint because they had been found short of their duties as well. “What do we protest against when we have been pocketing money for work we have not been doing,” says one, grinning.
None of the schools have completed the full duration of the program: one hour classes daily for three months. Most wrapped up lessons up within 15 days and pocketed rest of the budget.
The monitoring mechanism of the program required inspectors to fill up an evaluation form for each centre before the District Education Office could disburse the stipends. The volunteers also had to submit similar forms for their students. However, the DEO violated the guidelines and millions were embezzled by teachers and inspectors for work they never did. The forms, textbooks, and other teaching materials can be found lying in a pile of waste at the teachers’ homes.
The government has allocated nearly Rs 20 million Bajhang again this year, targeting 28,117 female and 6285 male illiterates, in 26 VDCs. The same 26 organisations have been assigned the task.
Khiu devi Khadka
It’s been Khiru Devi Khadka’s lifelong dream to learn how to read and write. But the 25-year-old mother of three from Gadraya-9 has never heard of any literacy programs in her village even though her name is on the roster of literates. Following is excerpt of our conversation with her:
Do you recognise this textbook? Can you read what is written in here?
No. I am illiterate.
But you are supposed to be literate. Didn't you go to adult literacy class?
Never. I don’t remember anybody teaching me.
Do you wish to read and write?
Of course, I’d love to. I hear people discuss and learn many things at village meetings. I wish I could do the same.
Aren't you allowed to participate in such meetings?
My friends insist. But I am hesitant. Besides, participants have to write their name.
Do you want to attend adult literacy classes?
If there had been a school for people like me, I wouldn't miss a single class.
Excerpts from interview with Jagannath Upadhyay, District Education Officer of Bajhang
How many VDCs have been declared literate to date?
You declared 14 VDCs literate during the last fiscal year, but many locals from those villages cannot read or write. Can you explain?
The fault lies with the local NGOs and institutions, who were given the responsibility to conduct the classes.
Why were they not monitored?
We are improving implementation this year.
Neither textbooks nor stationery were distributed and classes weren't conducted beyond 15 days. How could you make such a declaration?
The report states everything was done as per guidelines. I can't supervise everything.
The teacher training was meant to be five days long, but why was it wrapped up in two days?
I have no information regarding this.
There are complaints of financial irregularities. How will you address this?
We won't be lenient this year.