Education and literacy statistics have improved, but economic and cultural issues complicate the pursuit of education for many Nepalese. High poverty rates, particularly in rural areas, present numerous obstacles. The government provides tuition-free education to all children between the ages of six and 12, yet families often lack sufficient funds to cover non-tuition costs, such as books and clothing. Similarly, poor families often need their children to work. As a result, many children start school at a late age, such as nine or 10, and dropout rates are high. But things have improved a lot despite set backs such as the war with the Maoists from 1996 to 2006. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

Education expenditures: 5.2 percent of GDP (2018) (compared to 5 percent of GDP in the United States, 7.6 percent of GDP in Norway and 2.8 percent in Pakistan In comparison to other countries in the world Nepal ranks 56. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)
Total population: 67.9 percent
male: 78.6 percent
female: 59.7 percent (2018)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): 12 years; male: 12 years; female: 13 years (2017) School life expectancy (SLE) is the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive, assuming that the probability of his or her being enrolled in school at any particular future age is equal to the current enrollment ratio at that age. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

In the late 2000s education is not compulsory, attendance in primary school was 80.4 percent, and in secondary was 20 percent. One in five children between the age of 5 and 10, about 500,000 children, did not attend school and only three out of five children finished primary education. The Literacy rate was 49 percent (63 percent male, 35 percent female). [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]

Only 49.7 percent of students completed the fourth grade in 1999. However, from 1996 to 2004 the percentage of the population that had ever attended school increased from 34 percent to 46 percent, and from 1981 to 2001 the adult literacy rate increased from 20.6 percent to 48.6 percent.Another barrier to education is a common perception that there is little value in educating females. Still, gender disparities in education have declined. From 1990 to 2004, the percentage of female students at the “school” level (grades one to 10) increased from nearly 30 percent to 45.9 percent. **

Education Statistics for Nepal

Gross enrollment: Primary school in 2005: 114.5 percent; in 2019: 142.1 percent; secondary school in 2005: 48.1 percent; in 2019: 80.2 percent
Out of school children, primary age in 2004: male: 250,291 (36 percent); female: 427,047 (64 percent) ; total: 677,338.
Out of school children, primary age in 2019: total: 103, 384
Gender parity index from gross enrollment ratio, primary: 1
Adult literacy rate: male: 79 percent; female: 60 percent; total: 68 percent.
World Bank 2020]

Early Childhood
Attendance in early childhood education: 51 percent.

Early stimulation and responsive care (any adult household member); 67 percent.
Early stimulation and responsive care (father): 10 percent.
Learning materials at home – children's books: 5 percent.
Learning materials at home – playthings: 59 percent.
Children left in inadequate supervision: 21 percent.
[Source: UNICEF DATA 2020]

Adjusted net attendance rate, one year before official primary entry age: 83 percent.
Adjusted net attendance rate, primary education: 74 percent.
Adjusted net attendance rate, lower secondary education: 50 percent.
Adjusted net attendance rate, upper secondary education: 47 percent.
Completion rate, primary education: 82 percent.
Youth literacy rate (15 — 24 years): 92 percent.
[Source: UNICEF DATA 2020]

Literacy in Nepal

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): Total population: 67.9 percent; male: 78.6 percent; female: 59.7 percent (2018). (Compared to 45.8 percent for females and 69.5 percent for males in Pakistan; and 99 for male and females in Russia, the United States, Japan and much of Europe). In the mid 1990s the literacy rate in Nepal was: 27.5 percent (male: 40.9 percent, female: 14 percent) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020, 2002]

At the of the Rana era in the 1950s it was estimated that only 5 percent of Nepal’s population could read and write. Since that time the government has put a great emphasis on education and getting the population to read and write. By the 1960s the figure maybe reached 10 percent. In the 1990s it was about 30 percent of the population.

In 2005, according to United Nations data, only 48.6 per cent of adults in Nepal were literate, (males: 62.7 percent; females: 34.9 percent). compared to 61 per cent in India, 90.7 per cent in Sri Lanka and 47 per cent in Bangladesh, UN figures show. In 2000, various estimates of literacy in Nepal placed the rates between 23 and 41 percent of the adult population with a large gap between male and female rates. The Central Bureau of Statistics has been collecting literacy statistics since the first census in 1952-1954. For the censuses in 1952-1954, 1961, and 1971, literacy was defined as the ability to read and write in any language. For the census in 1981, the definition was expanded as the ability to read and write in any language with understanding. For the census in 1991, the definition was further expanded to add performance of simple arithmetic calculations. However, no functional testing was done in collecting the data that is estimated to be inflated by 10 to 25 percent. In 1996, the literacy rates in the eastern development region were 54.20 percent for males and 29.57 percent for females; in the central region, 50.19 percent for males and 20.75 percent for females; in the western region, 58.24 percent for males and 32.82 percent for females; in the mid-west region, 46.94 percent for males and 17.60 percent for females; and in the far west region, 48.98 percent for males and 14.85 percent for females. These statistics point at the dismal situation of female literacy rates in Nepal, which are among the lowest in the world. The literacy rates also vary according to ethnic grouping. The economically advantaged high caste ethnic groups like Marwari, Kayastha, Brahman, Thakali, and Newari have literacy rates between 60 and 95 percent. While lower castes such as Dhobhi, Dusadh, and Chamar have rates below 25 percent.

By the mid 2010s, Nepal was aiming to be “totally literate” and was claiming that that goal was in reach, which seemed unrealistic to some. Binod Ghimire wrote in the Kathmandu Post: “Going by a government projection, the country will be “total literate” by the end of the current fiscal year, having enrolled some 1.74 million adult illiterates (15-60 years) in over 20,000 classes. Loosely defined, total literacy is achieved when a given geography has more than 95 percent literacy rate. The last official data, National Census 2011, puts Nepal’s literacy rate at 65.9 percent. [Source: Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu Post, August 31, 2014]

“Baburam Poudel, executive director of the Non-Formal Education Center (NFEC), a government body that conducts literacy classes across the country, said over 3 million adults have been made literate in three years since the Census, taking the literacy rate to 84 percent. A door-to-door survey showed there were 4,054,649 uneducated adults in the fiscal year 2012-13. Around 915,000 of them became literate through campaigns held in the year while 1.34 million benefitted from classes in the fiscal 2013-14. This still leaves 1.74 million illiterate.

Efforts to Boost Literacy in Nepal

Binod Ghimire wrote in the Kathmandu Post: “The government has declared 2014-15 as the Illiteracy Elimination Year. According to a report released by the NFEC, only 1,745,334 people above 15 years of age are illiterate. The Center has decided to recruit some 20,000 teachers and mobilise students and volunteers. Rs 1.05 billion is set to be spent. [Source: Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu Post, August 31, 2014]

“Poudel claimed that 1.46 million illiterate people are from 16 districts in Terai and Nuwakot, the worst among the Hill districts. The government has already declared Sindhupalchok, Lalitpur, Palpa, Dhading and Mustang as “total literate” on the basis of 95 percent literacy rate.” In 2013 “the government initiated its ‘Literate Nepal Mission’ as per the global commitment to eliminate illiteracy by 2015 as envisaged by the Millennium Development Goal. For effective implementation of the programme, the ministry formulated directives requiring students from grades nine or ten to contribute to the campaign as part of their course. The students will get a target to make 308,162 people literate. For this, they will be awarded marks in the School Leaving Certificate examinations. Out of the 25 marks for practical skills, 10 will be allocated for their performance in the campaign.

“Past records of the NFEC, however, portray a dubious picture. The programme has never met the target in the past five years. The campaign failed to accomplish its goal in the last four years. Only 1.8 million benefitted from the drive in 2009 against the target of 2.3 million, while only 1 million benefitted in 2010 against the target of 1.2 million. The target of making 612,920 literate in 2011 was unmet too. Last year, only 1.3 million became literate against the target of 1.69 million. The programme has cost more than Rs 5 billion so far. District Illiterates: Mahottari: 166,286; Sarlahi: 160,168; Dhanusha: 153,219; Rautahat: 125,010; Siraha: 108,205.

Education Spending in Nepal

Expenditure on education as a percentage of total government spending: 14.1 percent
Expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP: 5.1 percent.
World Bank]

Education expenditures: 5.2 percent of GDP (2018) (compared to 5 percent of GDP in the United States, 7.6 percent of GDP in Norway and 2.8 percent in Pakistan In comparison to other countries in the world Nepal ranks 56. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

In the mid 2000s about 17 percent of Nepal’s annual $1.2 billion budget went to education. Approximately 55.4 percent of the 2003 education budget was for primary education. From 1990 to 2003, the share of the government budget allocated to education increased from 9.1 percent to 15.8 percent, and government-funded schools accounted for more than 85 percent of enrollment. However, private schools are often seen as offering higher-quality education. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “From 1975-1990, Nepal spent about 10 percent of its annual budget on education and raised it to 13 percent in the Eighth Five-Year Plan during 1992-1997. As a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this spending ranged between 1.3 percent and 2.0 percent between 1975 and 1990. The government, in its Eighth Five-Year Plan, spent 2.6 percent of its GDP on education. In 1997, the foreign aid in the education sector accounted for 52 percent of the total budget. The large amount of financial dependence on foreign donors undermines self-sustenance, increases foreign debt with heavy interest repayments, and also leads to pursuance of donor-driven agendas. A report prepared for the Ministry by the Danish University in 2000 found that 71 percent of the suggestions from the donor agencies were ratified by the government, as opposed to only 31 percent of the suggestions by the Parliamentarians. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“In 1995, per capita expenditure by the government on primary education in public schools was NR 970.30, which was about half of what was being spent in private schools. Further the household expenditure on education for a child attending was NR 362.16, while the expenditure on education for a private school was NR 4,699.08. The disproportionate expenditures partly account for differences in the quality of private and public education.

“The major portion of government expenditure for school education is spent on teacher and staff salaries and fringe benefits. A study done by Center for Educational Research, Innovation, and Development (CERID) in 1996 found that in public primary schools the expenditure on teacher and staff salaries was 86 percent, as compared to 63 percent in private primary schools. Likewise, in public secondary schools this expenditure on salaries was 76 percent in public sector, while only 52 percent in the private sector.

“Two major problems facing the financing of the educational system in Nepal are inadequate resources and low administrative efficiency. Inadequate resources affect the physical facilities, teachers, and equipment. The physical infrastructure in the schools is often inadequate. Communities are mainly responsible for building the physical facilities that are often in dilapidated conditions due to a deficiency of funds. The government provides the salary of teachers. There is a scarcity of trained teachers and the cost of continuing teacher training is also primarily the responsibility of the government. Therefore, upgrading the skills of the teachers is a constant struggle. The teaching-learning materials are usually deficient. The government also tries to provide materials for science education in secondary schools, but often these are not adequate. The government has made a commitment to provide education up to grade 10 without tuition fees. This has forced many schools to charge students "non-tuition" fees to sustain their programs; this nullifies the government's intention to provide free education. The government also supports higher education, and the student's fees are minimal. This adds to the burden on governmental resources. Tribhuvan University was able to generate only 9 percent of its budget from outside resources and depended on the government for the large bulk of its funding.

Early History of Education in Nepal

In the 18th and 19th century, Sanskrit was the main field of teaching and learning and religious centers were the main vehicles for providing education. Pradhan Pathshala (Sanskrit primary schools) were established in Dang, Dingla, Janakpur, and Kathmandu. Graduates from these schools used to travel to universities at Darbhanga and Kashi in India to complete further studies in Uttar Madhyama (Intermediate), Shastri (Bachelor), and Acharaya (Master) levels. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Under the Rana-British rule, between 1846 and 1951, access to education was confined to the higher castes and wealthier economic stratum of the population; the Ranas were opposed to giving education to the masses. They chose to educate their own children through English tutors. In 1854, Rana Jung Bahadur opened the Durbar School in Kathmandu to serve the needs of the Rana family and other Nepalese elite. This preference established the supremacy of the English education over the traditional Sanskrit-based education, a trend that has since continued. The School Leaving Certificate (SLC or grade 10) examination for Durbar School used to be conducted by the University of Calcutta, India until 1934 when the Nepal SLC examination board was founded.”

The Rana rulers, who placed Nepal under their feudal yoke for about 100 years until the beginning of the 1950s, feared an educated public. This fear also was held by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who established Tri-Chandra College in 1918 and named it after himself. During the inauguration of the college, Chandra Shamsher lamented that its opening was the ultimate death knell to Rana rule. He personally felt responsible for the downfall of Rana rule, and his words became prophetic for the crumbling of Rana political power in 1950-51. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The privileged access of members of the higher castes and wealthier economic strata to education was for centuries a distinguishing feature of society. The Ranas kept education the exclusive prerogative of the ruling elite; the rest of the population remained largely illiterate. The Ranas were opposed to any form of public schooling for the people, although they emphasized formal instruction for their own children to prepare them for a place in the government.*

The founder of the Rana regime, Jang Bahadur Kunwar, later known as Jang Bahadur Rana, decided to give his children an English education rather than the traditional religiously oriented training. In 1854 Jang Bahadur engaged an English tutor to hold classes for his children in the Rana palace. This act tipped the balance in favor of English education and established its supremacy over the traditional type of Sanskrit-based education. In 1991 English education still carried a higher status and prestige than did traditional education.*

Jang Bahadur's successor opened these classes to all Rana children and formally organized them into Durbar High School. A brief shift in government education policy came in 1901, when Prime Minister Dev Shamsher Rana took office and called for sweeping education reforms. He proposed a system of universal public primary education, using Nepali as the language of instruction, and opening Durbar High School to children who were not members of the Rana clan. Dev Shamsher's policies were so unpopular that he was deposed within a few months. His call for reforms did not entirely disappear, however. A few Nepali-language primary schools in the Kathmandu Valley, the Hill Region, and the Terai remained open, and the practice of admitting a few middle- and low-caste children to Durbar High School continued.*

Education in Nepal in the 1930s, 40s and 50s

Before World War II (1939-45), several new English middle and high schools were founded in Patan, Biratnagar, and elsewhere, and a girls' high school was opened in Kathmandu. In the villages, public respect for education was increasing, largely as a result of the influence of returning Gurkha soldiers, many of whom had learned to read and write while serving in the British army. Some retired soldiers began giving rudimentary education to children in their villages.Some members of the high-caste, elite families sent their children to Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, or other universities in India for higher academic or technical training. It was in fact, some of these students, having realized how oppressive the policies of Rana rule were, who initiated antiRana movements, provided revolutionary cadres, and finally began the revolution that ultimately led to the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had 310 primary and middle schools, eleven high schools, two colleges, one normal school, and one special technical school. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was 5 percent. Literacy among males was 10 percent and among females less than 1 percent. Only 1 child in 100 attended school.

After the 1951 revolution, efforts were made to establish an education system. The National Education Planning Commission was founded in 1954, the All Round National Education Committee in 1961, and the National Education Advisory Board in 1968 in order to implement and to refine the education system. In 1971 the New Education System came into operation as an integral part of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75); it was designed to address individual, as well as societal, needs in concert with the goals of national development.*

Education in Nepal in the 1970s

In 1975 primary education was made free, and the government became responsible for providing school facilities, teachers, and educational materials. Primary schooling was compulsory; it began at age six and lasted for five years. Secondary education began at age eleven and lasted another five years in two cycles — two years (lower) and three years (higher). Total school enrollment was approximately 52 percent of school-age children (approximately 70 percent of school-age boys, 30 percent of school-age girls) in 1984. Secondary school enrollment was only 18 percent of the relevant age-group (27 percent of the total boys, 9 percent of the total girls). About 72 percent of all students were male. The Ministry of Education supervised the finance, administration, staffing, and inspection of government schools. It also inspected private schools that received government subsidies. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

At the of the Rana era in the 1950s it was estimated that only 5 percent of Nepal’s population could read and write. Since that time the government has put a great emphasis on education and getting the population to read and write. By the 1960s the figure maybe reached 10 percent. In the 1990s it was about 30 percent of the population.

Severe strains have developed within the educational system as a result of efforts to rapidly expand it. In 1970, the monarchy and government appointed a task force to redesign the education system, resulting in the National Education System Plan (NESP) that came into effect in 1971. The educational structure was reorganized in accordance with the NESP to broaden the availability of education to the rural areas, increase its access to women, and meet manpower requirements. In 1975, primary education was made free (but not compulsory), including the provision of classrooms, teachers, and educational materials. Private schools are permitted and have been expanding rapidly.

Under the plan, Nepal's educational structure was divided into two levels, the school level and the higher education level. Institutes in each subject of higher education have been established under the supervision and control of Tribhuvan University. The widespread desire for education puts great pressure on the government to increase the number of schools and teachers. In spite of the NESP, quality varies widely, with higher quality schools located in population centers. Under the NESP, however, intense efforts have been made to equalize educational opportunity. Although Nepal is still a long way from universal education, great strides are being made.

“Since the democratization of Nepal, the country is committed to universal education and is slowly moving toward achieving that goal. In 1990, Nepal launched a massive literacy campaign targeting 8 million people between the ages of 6 and 45 years of age. Since then education in grades 1-10 is also being offered "tuition free" throughout the country.

Education in Nepal in the 1980s

As of 1987, Nepal had 12,491 primary schools, 3,824 lowersecondary schools, and 1,501 higher-secondary schools. There were 55,207 primary, 11,744 lower-secondary, and 8,918 higher-secondary school teachers. Primary school enrollments totaled 1,952,504 persons; lower-secondary and higher-secondary enrollment figures stood at 289,594 and 289,923 persons, respectively. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Curriculum was greatly influenced by United States models, and it was developed with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The National Education Plan established a framework for universal education. The goal of primary education was to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and to instill discipline and hygiene. Lower-secondary education emphasized character formation, a positive attitude toward manual labor, and perseverance. Higher-secondary education stressed manpower requirements and preparation for higher education. National development goals were emphasized through the curriculum.*

The School Leaving Certificate examination, a nationally administered and monitored high-school-matriculation examination, was given after completion of the higher-secondary level. Those who passed this examination were eligible for college. In addition, some communities had adult education schools.*

In the early 1980s, approximately 60 percent of the primary school teachers and 35 percent of secondary school teachers were untrained, despite the institution of a uniform method of training in 1951. The Institute of Education, part of Tribhuvan University, was responsible for inservice and preservice teacher training programs. Beginning in 1976, the institute organized a distancelearning program — electronic links between distant locations — for prospective teachers. Developments in telecommunications will provide new educational options.*

At the higher education level, there was only one doctoral degree-granting institution in Nepal, Tribhuvan University. It was named after King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, the grandfather of King Birendra, and was chartered in 1959. All public colleges fell under Tribhuvan University. Private colleges were operated independently, although they also were required to meet the requirements and standards set by Tribhuvan University. The total number of colleges increased significantly, from 8 in 1958 to 132 in 1988 (69 under Tribhuvan University and 63 private colleges). In terms of subjects, these colleges covered a wide range of disciplines, such as social sciences; humanities; commerce (business); physical sciences, including some medical sciences; engineering; education; forestry; law; and Sanskrit. The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions totaled almost 83,000 in 1987; the largest percentage was in humanities and social sciences (40 percent), followed by commerce (31 percent), science and technology (11 percent), and education (6 percent). Approximately 20 percent of the students enrolled in Tribhuvan University were females.*

State of Education in Nepal in the 1990s

The 1981 census found 24 percent of the population to be literate; as of 1990, the literacy rate was estimated to be 33 percent. There still was a big gap between male and female literacy rates. About 35 percent of the male population was literate in 1981, but only 11.5 percent of the female population was. A gulf also existed in literacy rates between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the literacy rates for males and females were 33 percent and 9 percent, respectively; in urban areas, they were significantly higher, 62 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The higher literacy rates in urban areas were largely attributed to the availability of more and better educational opportunities, a greater awareness of the need for education for employment and socioeconomic mobility, and the exodus of educated people from rural to urban areas. Nepal launched a twelve-year literacy program in 1990, targeting 8 million people between the ages of six and forty-five. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 ]
There was little doubt among observers that the historical monopoly of educational opportunity by members of the wealthier and higher caste groups gradually was diminishing. Schools and colleges were open to all, and enrollment figures were rising rapidly. The long-standing prejudice against the education of women seemed to be very slowly breaking down, as attested to by increasing enrollments of girls in schools and colleges. Yet two distinct biases — social class and geography — remained pronounced in educational attainment.

Despite general accessibility, education still nonetheless primarily served children of landlords, businessmen, government leaders, or other elite members of the society, for they were the only ones who could easily afford to continue beyond primary school. They also were far more able to afford, and likely to continue, education beyond the high school level. Many students in the general population dropped out before they took the School Leaving Certificate examination. There was an even more important ingredient for success after leaving school: if the quality of available higher education was considered inadequate or inferior, higher caste families could afford to send their children overseas to obtain necessary degrees. Foreign educational degrees, especially those obtained from American and West European institutions, carried greater prestige than degrees from Nepal. Higher caste families also had the necessary connections to receive government scholorships to study abroad.*

Further, education remained largely urban-biased. The majority of education institutions, particularly better quality institutions, were found in urban areas. In rural areas where schools were set up, the quality of instruction was inferior, facilities were very poor, and educational materials were either difficult to find or virtually unavailable. Consequently, if rural families were serious about the education of their children, they were forced to send them to urban areas, a very expensive proposition that the vast majority of rural households could not afford.*

Although there has been a remarkable numerical growth in the literacy rates, as well as the number of education institutions over the years, the quality of education has not necessarily improved. There were few top-notch teachers and professors, and their morale was low. At the higher educational level, the research focus or tradition was virtually absent, largely because there were few research facilities available for professors. There were some excellent private schools, mostly located in the Kathmandu Valley, but many appeared to be merely money-making ventures rather than serious, devoted educational enterprises. The large majority of schools and colleges were run by poorly prepared and poorly trained teachers and professors. Schools and colleges frequently were closed because of strikes. Students had little respect for teachers and professors and were concerned with obtaining a certificate rather than a quality education. Cheating was rampant during examinations at all levels.*

State of Education in Nepal in the 2000s

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: Nepal “ is still caught in the vicious cycle of poverty, lethargy of illiteracy, and tradition. The education system is plagued by a lack of financial support, deficiency of trained human resources, inadequate physical infrastructure, and managerial inefficiency. As a consequence, the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid. Self-reliance in the education sector seems to be elusive with more than half of the funding coming from foreign donors. The international influence continues to shape the priorities for the country, while at the same time increasing the burden of debt. Efforts to broaden taxation, making the revenue administration more effective and efficient, and increasing taxation on private school incomes might be some measures that could be taken to boost local funding of education. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Universal access to literacy and primary education is emphasized in policy statements and political manifestos. However, the literacy and primary education efforts are confronted with barriers such as poverty, dropouts, burden of work on children, irregularity of school operation, physical distance to schools, low perceived importance of education by masses, caste and ethnic discriminations, centralized curricula, differential dialects and languages, and failure of local planning. The curricula are centralized with governmental control that does not allow teachers and local communities to take ownership of education. Political will and sustained efforts at addressing the barriers will assist in achieving this goal.

“The secondary education system suffers from poor net enrollment ratios, lack of infrastructure, inadequate equipment, poor quality of education, lack of trained teachers, and financial constraints. The higher secondary level in Nepal is in its infancy stages and is completely in private hands for its implementation. Therefore it is confined mainly in the urban areas and to the sections of population that can afford it. More efforts are needed to extend its reach into remote and rural areas.

“Finally, the philosophical direction of Nepalese education is being shaped rather blindly on borrowed models primarily from the West. Nepal has failed to build on its rich heritage of Sanskrit-based education that emphasized the importance of experiential learning. The experiential learning concepts have somehow been lost and education from books that emphasize rote memorization has gained eminence. The situation has been further compounded by blind emphasis on the English education system and failure to incorporate problem-based, analytical approaches inherent in the Western models. As a result, the quality of education has left much to be desired. There is vast scope for improving the quality, a challenge that Nepalese educators and planners must accept.

Constitutional and Legal Foundations of Education in Nepal

On the “Right to education” the Constitution of Nepal, approved in September 2015, reads: 1) Every citizen shall have the right to access to basic education. 2). Every citizen shall have the right to compulsory and free basic education, and free education up to the secondary level. 3) The physically impaired and citizens who are financially poor shall have the right to free higher education as provided for in law. 4) The visually impaired person shall have the right to free education with the medium of brail script. 5). Every Nepali community living in Nepal shall have the right to acquire education in its mother tongue up to the secondary level, and the right to open and run schools and educational institutions as provided for by law.”

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Nepal is a parliamentary democracy, with the head of the government being the Prime Minister. The legislative branch of the government consists of a bicameral Parliament. The lower branch of the Parliament is the House of Representatives. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Nepal is a signatory to the policy of Education for All (in 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (in 1991 at New Delhi, India) and is committed to free and universal education. Since 1951, the government has constituted education commissions at periodic intervals to develop basic policy guidelines. Subsequently, the cabinet decisions and parliament acts have included these policy guidelines into five-year national plans. The Eighth Five-Year Plan concluded in June 1997. In the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002), since the country continued to struggle with poverty, the primary national development objectives are focused on poverty alleviation and the chosen strategy for accomplishing these objectives is through education. The Ninth Five-Year Plan describes educational priorities that include improving school facilities, enhancing teacher training, and expanding secondary, vocational, and technical institutions. The Ninth Five-Year Plan also emphasizes enhancement of the quality of general education, female participation in education, and access to education for disabled and socially disadvantaged communities. The Ninth Five-Year Plan envisages a growth of the net primary school enrollment to 90 percent by the end of its period in 2002 and 100 percent by the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan in 2017.

Administration of Education in Nepal

Describing the education bureaucracy in the early 2000s, Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “In 2001, the Ministry of Education and Sports (previously known as Ministry of Education and Culture) was the governmental division looking after the education sector. A Minister of the Cabinet Rank heads the Ministry. On April 11, 2000, the Minister was Tarani Dutta Chataut. In the Ministry, the Department of Education (DOE) at Keshar Mahal, headed by a Director General, formulates the medium term and annual policies, plans, objectives, and targets in the education sector. Public or government-aided schools are managed by School Management Committees (SMCs), according to education regulations of the DOE. The composition of SMCs, academic content, textbooks, and examination systems are uniform throughout the country. The primary source of revenue for schools is governmental grants, which are based on the number of the students in each school. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“The teachers, including the headmasters, are appointed by the DOE. The District Education Committee (DEC), which is nominated by DOE, nominates the SMCs. The government District Education Office, within the DEC, is headed by a District Education Officer. This is the most influential unit and designates tasks for each school to implement. Each of the 75 districts has a District Education Officer. The DEC sets the school calendar, provides teacher salaries, organizes teachers training programs, carries out inspections, and audits the school accounts. The autonomy of teachers in changing the educational procedures is often cited as a reason for limited operation of the schools, low academic quality, lack of accountability, and lack of local participation. The technical and vocational schools of the CTEVT are also managed on a similar basis by SMCs.

“The universities are managed by Senate Council consisting of the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Rector, Registrar, and senate members representing various academic, economic, political, private, social, and student groups. The university senate is the apex body and is responsible for making policy decisions. The University Grants Commission (UGC) assists the government in managing the fiscal aspects and funding policies. The UGC also coordinates and disburses financial grants to the universities.

“The apex institution for conducting educational research in Nepal is the Center for Educational Research, Innovation, and Development (CERID), which is affiliated with Tribhuvan University. CERID is headed by an Executive director and has completed several educational research projects, including collaborations with several foreign institutions.”

Schools and Education During Civil War with the Maoists (1996-2006)

During the Nepal civil war from 1996 to 2006, the limited, shaky education system was devastated by the activity of Maoist rebels. Schools were shut by general strikes and threats from the Maoist rebels. Private schools were closed by strikes organized by students demanding lower tuition. The Maoist rebels set up their own governments and schools in some localities. As of 2002, the Maoist rebels had set up “people’s governments” in 22 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In areas they controlled, the rebels ran schools and set up courts. They collected taxes and appointed their own self-declared chiefs.

Maoists introduced their own curriculum to their schools. Students were forced to observe a moment of silence rather than singing. In some places the Maoists came to the schools at least once a month and took away students for days for indoctrination sessions. The teachers in these areas were still paid by the Nepalese government. The teachers were asked to pay the rebels 5 percent of their pay as a tax to the rebels. During “emergency fund-raising” drives the rebeks asked the teachers to fork over an entire month’s pay. Teacher were often threatened or intimidated by the rebels. Some were killed. Many quit and fled. As a result many rural schools closed.

The Maoist rebels were accused off using child soldiers and abducting children to fill their ranks. In some cases children were kidnaped at school and forced to attend three-day-long “democratic people’s education” camps. Some joined the rebels voluntarily after being promised enough to eat. A representative of the National Coalition for Children in a Zone of Peace told AP, “It is distressing to hear repeatedly of more and more children being shot and blown up by bombs and explosives, being taken by force from their homes and schools. Many families sent their children away to places beyond the reach of the rebels so they would not be taken by the rebels.

The Maoist rebels seem particularly keen on attacking schools that offered a “bourgeois education.” A guard at an English-language school in an upscale neighborhood in Kathmandu told the Asahi Shimbun “They put a gun to my head and forced themselves in” and then blew up the school libraries and a set fire to a classroom filled with computers.” The next day they bombed the administrative offices at Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s top university. Afterwards 4,700 schools in the Kathmandu area were closed as a precautionary measure.

The Maoist rebels called “bandhs” (general strikes), forcing schools and businesses to close, shutting down domestic flights, and keeping vehicles off the roads. To enforce their blockades they burned vehicles and planted mines. Pro-Maoist student groups organized strikes that shut down schools, demanding that private education be abolished and all private schools be nationalized.

Nonformal Education in Nepal

Manoj Sharma wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Nonformal education in Nepal began in 1951 when activities for literacy enhancement began as part of the national development. These efforts were regularized in the First Five-Year Plan (1956-1961). With the increasing foreign aid through international organizations and subsequent mushrooming of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) between the 1970s and 1990s, the nonformal education movement has picked up momentum. In 1997, there were about 6,000 registered NGOs that were working in the area of education. [Source: Manoj Sharma, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“In 1974, CERID launched a community-based education program, "Education for Rural Development," in Lahachauk. The program tested and compared the efficacy of a uni-message literacy program with multi-message functional literacy programs. This pilot project paved the way for the national functional literacy program in 1978, which was funded by the Ministry of Education.

“In 1981, in the four districts of the Seti anchal, the Chelibeti program focusing on the education of female children was developed. The Ministry of Education launched the Primary Education Project (PEP) in 1984 with a loan from World Bank. By 1987, this program included nonformal education components such as Shiksha Sadan (out-of-school programs), women's education programs, adult education programs, school environment improvement programs, and a community reading center.

“Between 1991 and 1996, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assisted CERID in training and supporting literacy providers through higher education institutions in United States. In addition, USAID funded World Education/Nepal project aimed at improving women's literacy. In 1990, at the governmental level, the National Education Commission was formed to strengthen the nonformal education sector. Subsequently, the National Non-Formal Education Council was also formed.

“Distance education in Nepal employs a radio broadcast approach and is used mainly to support teachertraining activities. The Institute of Education affiliated to Tribhuvan University started a distance-learning program in 1976. This was discontinued in 1980 and replaced with the Radio Education Teacher Training (RETT) Project that offers a basic teacher training primary education certificate/diploma course in Nepali language. In 1998, there were 1,800 students enrolled in this course.

Female Education in Nepal

Another traditionally barrier to education un Nepal has been the a common perception that there is little value in educating females. Still, gender disparities in education have declined. From 1990 to 2004, the percentage of female students at the “school” level (grades one to 10) increased from nearly 30 percent to 45.9 percent. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

Traditionally girls have had to stay home and do family chores while boys went to schools. An effort is being made to get more girls into school. Japanese aid organizations have been involved in providing reading and writing classes for women to increase literacy rates for women. The classes also teach women about basic health care, conservation of resources and disease prevention. Women who have attended these classes have increased confidence, ore courage to go towns and stand up to their husbands. They have taken responsibilities usually taken by men in their villages.

Things have improved of the literacy level but still have some way to go. The literacy rate (age 15 and over can read and write) for females was 59.7 percent in 2018, compared to 14 percent in the 1990s. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020, 2002]

And there are still a lot of sad stories out there. The Kathmandu Post described one girl who had to quit school and go to work after the 2015 earthquake killed her father. Reporting from Sindhupalchok, northeast of Kathmandu, Anish Tiwari wrote in the Kathmandu Post: “Fourteen-year-old Rejina Tamang of Sigarche settlement in Gati VDC has been working as a daily wage earner to support her family after her father Tek Bahadur died in the 2015 earthquake. Her mother, Nirmaya, 48, was rendered disabled when the earthquake flattened her home. Besides her mother, she has an 11-year-old sister who goes to a local school. Every morning, Rejina walks to a local quarry to carry stones for the villagers building their homes. The home that she lives in with her mother and sister these days is a shabby hut cobbled together after the destructive earthquake . [Source: Anish Tiwari, Sindhupalchok, Kathmandu Post, December 25, 2016]

“Rejina says she had to quit school after the earthquake in order to support her mother and sister. Her family had no money to buy food after the earthquake, much less books and stationery. Being the eldest child in the family, she decided to get a job, any job, as long as her family did not have to beg. “I was studying in grade six at a local school. Everything changed after the earthquake,” she says. As a 14-year-old girl, getting a job carrying stones at the quarry was not easy for Rejina. She remembers the quarry operator refusing to offer her job. “Seeing that I was just a little girl, they said I was not fit for the job. They took pity on me after hearing out my story and offered me the job.”

Rejina earns a few hundreds rupees a day. The money is spent on food and schooling her sister. “There is no other source of income. We didn’t get the aid from the government to build our home because the house ownership documents were taken by my uncles after father died,” she says. Rejina is not the only child working as a daily wage earner in Sindhupalchok, according to the District Child Welfare Committee (DCWC). There were around 7,000 child workers in the district according to the survey that was carried out by the DCWC two years ago. “Post earthquake, we have found 291 earthquake-affected children working menial jobs to help out their families. There could be more such children but we do not have the exact figure,” says Rewati Raman Nepal, information officer at the DCWC.

Sherpa Education

Sherpas are a Tibetan Buddhist people that are essentially Tibetans who have lived in Nepal long enough to develop some of their own unique traits and characteristics. They are quite different from Hindu Nepalese. The Sherpas of the Khumbu valley near Mt. Everest are famous mountaineers and guides.

When Sir Edmund Hillary finished his expeditions he asked his Sherpa companions what they desired most. "Schools" an old Sherpa answered, "Our children have eyes but they are blind." Hillary then help open some schools in the Khumba Valley. One Sherpa who attended a school set up by Hillary and went on to fly Boeing jets said: “We were 47 scrappy children with no schools in 1960... It was one of the biggest excitements for us to have the opportunity to learn what the English alphabet looks like, to understand Nepali writing.”

Some Sherpa high school students walk five hours to school each week and spend the night in dormitories and return to the villages on the weekend. Regardless of whether the trails are covered in snow in the winter or drenched in monsoon rains in the summer they make the trip. These days many Sherpas forgo completing school to get jobs in the trekking industry. Thanks in part to Hillary the Sherpas now have some of the best schools and hospitals in Nepal.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (, Nepal Government National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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