Although it is the home district of Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, the literacy rate in Mahottari is only 46 per cent.
On a sweltering morning this week, a village in Mahottari was humming with excitement. Women and children from the Dalit Musahar community jostled for space in a tractor trolley. Manaki Sada was holding a feast to celebrate her son’s success in school exams.
Sanjay Sada had become the first Musahar in his village to pass the SLC exams. Although it is the home district of Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, the literacy rate here — as in other eastern Tarai districts — is 46 per cent, much lower than the national average of 65 per cent.
All schools were closed for six months last year during the Madhes agitation. When the exams were finally held, many nervous students fainted. “They were under pressure because they hadn’t finished preparations,” said Dipak Shakya, Principal of Birganj Public College.
Madhesi parties are now focusing their agitation in Kathmandu, but students face a shortage of textbooks in the minister’s own district. Ministry of Education’s Hari Lamsal’s response is emblematic of the government’s buck-passing: “We are embarrassed, but what can we do if the state agency supposed to print textbooks does not finish in time?”
In the Tarai districts with low literacy rates, teachers, students and their parents were expecting a special education program, particularly after last year’s disruptive Tarai agitation. But the government failed to fulfil these aspirations. Instead, Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel last week allocated merely 11 per cent of the budget for education, down from 17 per cent.