Newsletter: Issue 1
Combating the gulf between public and private education in Nepal
On the 8th of August 2012 the Shree Rastriya government school in Chitwan, Nepal officially opened the doors of its new nursery unit in an opening ceremony of singing, dancing and the ritual red tikka so evocative in Hindu culture. It was the celebration of the hard work carried out by the Student Volunteers Abroad Nepal project, the local community of Champanagar, and a team of skilled builders over the monsoon season of July and August, were scorching temperatures were matched only by torrential rains.
But in truth it was the culmination of a long process of consultation and tough decisions made by the school’s committee, and Principal Durga Prasad Bhatta. Over the 5 weeks that I had the pleasure of being a guest at Mr Bhatta’s house I learned in great detail about the difficulties of the public schooling system in Nepal. Chronically underfunded, racked by political disputes, and poorly coordinated, the government schools of Nepal have not only become semi-dependent on the aid of foreigners but have also become the sole educational option available to the poorest in Nepali society. Government schools are faring poorly when compared to their private competitors, as one member of the committee told me, because of one dominant factor – English-Medium Education (EME). For those students whose families can afford it, EME schools provide a wide curriculum taught in English which increases their opportunities for employment in and outside Nepal in the future.
But this education comes at a cost. The Vice-Principle of one local high school, Shree Himalaya, estimated that to compete with EME schools government schools would have to charge a levy ten times higher than the current contributions, a fee that would simply force many of the poorest children out of education. Mr Bhatta was well aware that being unable to provide a high standard of English language teaching was limiting the prospects of his current students but he informed me that the construction work that SVA funds paid for was part of a different strategy, one of increasing the length of time that the poorest students could stay in school for. Construction of the new self-contained nursery units allowed the conversion of two other classrooms to provide for 6th and 7th grade classes, as part of new government regulations. However many members of the committee, including the Principle, lamented that increasing capacity came at the cost of resources that could be used to provide a higher standard of English language education.
This endemic problem was also identified by many of the volunteers on the Nepal project. Before construction work began in the early afternoon, the volunteers would teach in English between 6.30am and 9am. The volunteers noted that because of the children’s enthusiasm, many improved their English skills considerably over the 5 weeks, but the volunteers feared that their efforts would be short lived if the quality of English teaching was not maintained after they left Nepal. October’s project evaluation raised the topic of EME once more and the coordinators of the Nepal 2013 project decided to give greater weight to English teaching than construction in their consideration for future projects. Suggestions for improvement included; sending government school English teachers on intensive language courses to improve the quality of education they provided; teaching advanced classes designed for government school teachers; and increasing the amount of time spent on teaching students on project. Chloe Pratt, one of the 2013 coordinators, said “The focus of SVA’s sustainable development work in Nepal needs to change. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on English teaching and less on construction. That way the kids of these villages will be able to reap the benefits of their English classes long after they have left school”. This new approach to the Nepal project highlights Student Volunteers Abroad’s ability to adapt to the changing needs of the communities and organizations with which we work, and it is hoped that SVA can help to combat the growing gulf between public and private education in Nepal.
SVA is a Scottish Registered Charity: No. SC 030081 c/o. University of Glasgow SRC, The John MacIntyre Building, University of Glasgow, GLASGOW, G12 8QQ