Statement of Macro Level Problem
On February 27, 2012 República, a leading English print newspaper in Nepal, published an article entitled “Slide into Africa” by Sukhdev Shah, a former Nepali ambassador to the United States and 20-year veteran of the International Monetary Fund. In the article, Shah concluded that Nepal’s “immense misuse of public money and public’s as well as donors’ inability to press for accountability” as the reason why Nepal remains poor and its future remains bleak. Prior to the publication, the World Bank had released its 2012 World Development Report (WDR), entitled “Gender Equality and Development,” which shockingly included Nepal amongst the bottom of all worldwide nations, surrounded by (and ranked below) many sub-Saharan countries. At least one nongovernmental organization, The Mountain Fund, which focuses on education primarily in the northern regions of Nepal, expressly points to Mr. Shah’s article, which incorporates much of the 2012 World Development Report data, as the reason why the group is involved in Nepal. Other organizations, such as First Steps Himalaya, site inadequate funding, poor training and high levels of teacher absenteeism (at the governmental level) as the reason for their program.
Although Nepal’s literacy rate has risen dramatically since 1950 from just 5% to 66% in 2011, its female literacy rate remains at just 57%. Net primary school enrollment now stands at 90%; however, more than half of Nepali children do not enter secondary school. One-half more do not complete secondary education, resulting in a net enrollment rate of just 24% for classes 9-12. Coupled with more than two million Nepali workers seeking work abroad, or nearly 8% of the population, Nepal suffers from a severe shortage of skilled labor.
Nepal is a land of untapped opportunity. Unfortunately, it is also a country of economic and social mismanagement. Home to eight of the top ten highest mountain peaks in the world, Nepal is an obvious tourist destination, yet its political instability has largely mired the industry. The landlocked country boasts itself as one of the largest untapped hydropower markets in the world with an estimated 83,000 million watts; however, only 40% of its population has access to electricity (90% urban; 5% rural). Annually, Nepal receives over $2 billion USD in foreign aid and has a national investment rate of 29% of GDP or close to $4 billion USD per year, placing it in the top quartile of nations, yet its road density ranks as one of the lowest in South Asia. Nepal ranks as 157th out of 187 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index and as 3rd lowest behind Afghanistan and Yemen in the Asia and Oceania region.
Nepal is divided into districts, which are then subdivided into Village Development Committees (VDC), each with nine wards. Within the area of Bachhauli, a sizeable disparity in wealth exists, as Sauraha, the tourist center of the area, is incorporated into wards one through five. The remaining wards, by and large, do not benefit from tourism. As such, approximately 50% of the families in Sauraha have the means to send their children to private school, compared to just 20% of families from wards six through nine. Considering the significant quality discrepancy between private (institutional) and government (community) schools, this issue is epidemic.
Currently, the major investment opportunities in Nepal include: agriculture, tourism, hydroelectricity, education, healthcare, financial services, private shops and exports (ready-made garments and commodities). In each sector save one, private shops, fluent knowledge of English is critical. Private schools teach exclusively in English, giving its pupils a chance to succeed on the global marketplace. Government schools, however, teach exclusively in Nepali, leaving its students falling further behind.
When referring to the Nepalese Ministry of Education statistics, one finds an even more striking contrast to the quality of education that exists in Nepal. At the end of class level 10 in Nepal, all students take a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam. According to Ministry of Education, of the 419,049 students who took the SLC exam in 2012, only 197,638 (47.2%) passed. Looking more closely, however, one finds the dramatic discrepancy. Just 36.5% of government pupils passed the SLC exam, while a nearly 85% of private students successfully navigated the exam! Even more surprising perhaps is the fact that 46.6% of government students passed the SLC exam the year prior – a full 10% more! By comparison, 85.8% of private students passed the 2011 SLC exam.
Looking in the daily newspapers in Nepal, it is ever apparent that the education quality gap between private and government schools is growing, seemingly, by the day. A glance at the May 8, 2013 República print edition, for instance, includes an article about the current (and annual) textbook shortage at government schools. It is apparent that private schools are the only hope to resurrect Nepal.