Tarai-Hills gap big hurdle in schooling
Tarai-Hills gap big hurdle for MDG in schooling
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Sept 28: In its attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for primary education by 2015, the government has focused on enhancing children´s access to schools. This has, however, had very little impact on children in the Tarai districts, as compared to the Hills and mountain areas.
Since 2005, especially after the government decided to speed up constructing new schools and upgrading old ones, the number of public schools across the country has increased by 15 percent. However, irrespective of the sharp increase in the number of schools in five years, children in Tarai districts still have little access to public education.
The National Planning Commission (NPC)´s latest progress report on the MDGs states that schools in Tarai are overcrowded.
According to the latest flash report published by Education Management Information System (EMIS) at the Department of Education (DoE), there are a total of 32,130 public schools, apart from traditional and religious ones, across the country.
However, irrespective of the fact that the largest pie of population lives in the Tarai, only 30 percent of public schools are located there.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 49 percent of school-aged children (between 5-16 years) reside in the Tarai while only 43 percent of them are in the Hills. Because Tarai has fewer number of schools, Net Enrollment Rate (NER) and literacy rate are relatively low in this area, according to the NPC report.
The NPC has pointed out the regional disparity in terms of net enrollment and literacy rate between the Hills and the Tarai as one of the major challenges in meeting the MDG target in education.
“It is an issue of exclusion,” Zahid Perbez, a researcher at Research Center for Educational Innovation and Development (CERID) who is involved in a number of researches about Islamic education, told myrepublica.com. “It demonstrates how the government has excluded Madhesi people in education, as in all other sectors.”
Naturally, the number of schools should be high in the Hills, keeping in view its difficult terrain that creates obstacles for students to reach schools. However, the disparity in terms of access to public schools between the Hills and the Tarai regions is palpably high, resulting in considerable overcrowding in schools.
“The overcrowding in schools has adversely impacted girl students´ enrollment rate in the Tarai,” said Perbez. “In the Tarai, where society is relatively more conservative, the government should build sufficient schools to increase girls´ enrollment rate.”
However, according to Perbez, no government official, including those who represent Madhes, has ever understood this simple fact to date.
Madhes-based political parties, which surged in the wake of the abolition of the monarchy, too, have failed to raise this issue vociferously. However, the parties disagree with this.
“We have always pressed the government for adopting a policy against all types of educational disparities,” argued Jitendra Sonar, joint general secretary, Tarai-Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), adding, “It is clearly mentioned in our election manifesto as well.”
TMDP leader Sonar flays the government for not taking concrete initiatives for constructing adequate number of schools in the Tarai. “By and large, the government has never built schools in the Tarai,” he asserted. “The construction of almost 90 percent of schools in the Tarai was made possible only through the effort of the local communities,” Sonar said.
Hari Prasad Lamsal, under secretary at the Ministry of Education (MoE), rubbishes this argument outright. “Our practice is that the government builds schools only upon the community´s request,” Lamsal said. “Therefore, the low number of schools in the Tarai does not mean that the government´s policy is discriminatory at all.”
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