Nepal is a small country, located in South Asia. It is a multi-cultural country. Nepal has an interesting diversity, ranging from Tarai, a northern part of the Gangetic Plain, at about 300 meters above the Sea level, to 8,848 meter high Sagarmatha or the Mount Everest in the north; there are valleys between the mountain range that punctuate the rise in elevation. Within the maze of mountain, hills, ridges, and low valleys, change in altitude causes ecological variations. In Nepal, almost all the climatic zones of the earth can be found ranging from tropical forest of Terai to arctic desert in the higher regions and in the arid zone of the Tibetan plateau.
Until 1950s, Nepal remained virtually isolated from the outside world. Today the Nepalese education system is rapidly expanding and striving to meet the needs of all children.
Education Commissions were constituted at different times. Since 1954, Nepal laid emphasis on the need for providing basic and primary education for all citizens. However since that period the basic policy had always remained the same. After the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, educational development efforts have become consistent compared to previous decades. Primary education (Grade 1-3) has been free since 1975 and from 1981 it was free up to Grade 5. In 1992, the Nepal government declared free education up to Grade 10. Although it is free, parents have to buy books and pay some charges to the school which makes ECD (Early Childhood Development) unaffordable for the poor children.
Brief history on ECD policy
The Constitution of Nepal (1990) and The Child Rights and Welfare Act, (2008/1991) have made clear provision to safeguard the Rights of the Children. The Basic and Primary Education Project (BPEP) II (1999-2002) has developed ECD programs to ensure inherent potentialities of children to flourish. The emphasis of the program is placed on providing activities for holistic development of the child. Since then the government has also recognized the important role of various non government organizations in Nepal. BPEP II has implemented community based ECD program in 42 districts (out of 75 districts of the country). The targeted number of community-based ECD centers was 5700 by 2004. The tenth Five Year Plan (2003-2007) planned to establish further 13,000 centers for the period.
The Department of Education (DOE) has also developed and implemented a community based ECD program since 1999. DOE is responsible to lead and coordinate various kinds of activities on ECD program for the holistic development of the children (age 3-5 years) (Shrestha, 2002).
In 1999, an Early Childhood Development Section was established under the Department of Education of the Ministry of Education and Sports to look after the ECD development needs in the country. The Department of Education/ECD Section consists of an Under Secretary (Section Chief) and two section officers.
At the national level, a National Early Childhood Development Council was formed in 2005 and is chaired by the Ministry of Education and Sports with members from Ministry of Health, Local Development, Women, Children and Social Welfare and UN agencies and various other NGOs. This Council provides a broad base to harmonize ECD activities and to ensure coordination among national and local level programmes.
At the district level, District Child Development Boards (DCDB) have been constituted in some districts chaired by District Development Committees. As per the 2004 ECD strategy, these Boards were to be formed in all 75 districts in the country. The board is also responsible to ensure community participation, to coordinate with local government bodies, International Non Government Organization (INGOs), and local authorities, and to raise funds and to provide support to construct ECD centers.
At the village and municipality levels, the Village or Municipal Education Committee is responsible to coordinate the child development activities at the local level. The Committee also looks at pre-primary classes carried out in public and private schools (UNESCO, 2006).
On the whole, the government policy for the development of ECD program in Nepal is favorable. The government's commitment to the EFA (Education for All) goal of "expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children" is reflected in the Strategy Paper for ECD in Nepal 2004 (CERID, 2009). The latest statistics indicates that there are over 33,404 ECD/PPC (Pre-primary classes) in the country. Out of the total 33,404 ECD/PPs (Pre-primary Schools) 28,773 (86.1%) ECD are running as community-based ECDs and community schools based ECD/PPCs and rest (13.9%) of the ECD/PPCs are run under institutional schools.
Table 1. Total number of ECD/PPCs by types and eco-belts
|Source: Flash I Report 2011-012|
The table shows that the institutional PPCs are concentrated mostly in valley and community based ECDs are dominant in Mountain, Hill, and Terai eco-belts.
Recent National Policies and Reforms on ECD
Pre-primary education is available only to a minority of children exclusively in urban settings. All pre-primary schools are private and charge fees. The Basic and Primary Education Project (BPEP) is working to broaden the network of pre-primary educational institutions. Pre-primary education is not currently part of the formal education system. A very limited percentage of children have access to private, fee-paying pre-school establishments exclusively in urban areas. Almost all of the 4,004 private schools in Nepal have pre-primary nursery and kindergarten classes. Most of these private schools have three sections: Nursery, Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG). The Basic and Primary Education Project (BPEP) has included the promotion of early childhood activities on its agenda. (Shrestha, Bajracharya, Aryal, Thapa, & Bajracharya, 2008).
At present more than 7,023 community-based ECD centers are in operation across the country, which are receiving technical support from the Department of Education and District Education Offices through Resource Centers. These centers are not enough to accommodate all children between 3 to 5 years of age. Presently, under BPEP II, the government is providing support to community based ECD centers for facilitator's salary (Rs. 24,000 ≈ USD 271 per year), establishment costs (Rs. 2,000 ≈ USD 23 each), basic material costs (Rs. 1,000 ≈ USD 11 each) and a maximum of Rs. 27,000 ≈ USD 307 to match the fund collected by the community. BPEP II also bears the cost of basic and refresher training for facilitator and orientation programmes for the management committee members. However, many centers have not yet been able to raise the fund to match the entire amount provided to them by the government (UNICEF, 2007).
The National policy aimed to construct 6,000 new ECD centers within the school year of 2005/6. The government reports that they will achieve their target construction. Unfortunately, the Department of Education does not have enough resources to fully support the expansion. For example, the facilitator's training has been reduced from 16 days to 8 days. Matching funds are also not available for all new centers since the expansion of 6,000 new ECD centers were not budgeted for in 2005/06.
Learning materials have been purchased through the district education offices and are being distributed to the ECD centers throughout the district. Special trainings are given to make learning materials out of locally available materials. Many NGOs and partners are participating and encouraging this practice of utilizing locally available materials.
Child psychologists and ECD specialists are raising serious concerns about the use of heavily loaded cognition based curriculum and content oriented pedagogy in such classes.
Most private schools are neither able to hire or develop ECD experts to work in such establishments, nor has the government been able to cater to the needs of child development.
Actual Situation and Challenge
According to Department of Education, Sanothimi Bhaktapur (this is the name of a location) on 2006, the total number of ECD centers in the whole country was 12,062. Every year the number was increasing to meet the target of EFA programmes in Nepal. From this increasing numbers of ECD centers we can assume that the situation of children is improving, young children are getting ECD based programme for their foundation of life but in practice it is different. In the process of this research work, I got opportunities to visit many ECD centers in rural, semi-urban and urban areas of Nepal. There is a legal procedure to start an ECD centers in a community or in a government school. After fulfilling the required procedure the Department of Education will permit the School based ECD centers (For basic teaching learning materials and remuneration) to start operating.
When an ECD center is established the children of age 3-5 will be benefit, so the community people and community development workers try to get the quota to start ECD centers but in some areas parents are not aware and not convinced about the importance of ECD programms and in some areas Community ECD programms are not effective compared to private school based ECD programms.
According to parents when a child goes to ECD center he/she should learn the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). In private schools, in order to please the parents, the school management had altered the curriculum to meet parental demands.
Presently in big cities like Kathmandu, there are many private pre-schools which are trying to introduce the Montessori methods but are not successful, because parents and untrained teachers are more comfortable and have greater faith in the traditional rote learning methods. Children are forced to read and write even before they are physically and mentally mature.
There are fewer children in community based ECD centers. There are cases that when the monitoring group from Department of Education or NGOs/INGOs visits the ECD centers the management committee, caregivers or teachers collect the children who are not really enrolled in the centre. In reality there are no ECD centers according to registration and no children in the centers. Many operate only in name especially in Terai and Remote areas. When the monitoring group decides to visit the ECD centers, they inform their schedule and the management committee has time to collect children for the certain date and time. In some cases of Tarai (Border of India) children used to be collected from India (when it was Sunday, which is a holiday in India and working day in Nepal). So the ECD management committee organized the supervisions on Sundays.
There are many positive and negative observations about ECD centers, but for the future of Nepalese children this is a good start. Pre-schools and ECD centers are different from home atmosphere. Here children interact with caregivers, teachers and peer group. There are different activities, code of conduct and ways of learning.
Trained teachers often do not see the value of using the new techniques they had learned during teacher training courses. For them, it was time consuming and old habits of teaching children were simple and easy to implement. Further with no monitoring and regulation, pre-primary classes were just down ward extensions of primary classes. School principals and teachers were politically appointed and not much could be done to regulate them.
Children are the most important asset of any country and the most important human resource for overall development of the country. Schools are an external medium that helps children acquire new knowledge and skills to grow into a productive and capable citizen. Joyful and happy environment promotes diversity in learning. If we desire to overcome the problems of education in Nepal, we must focus on early childhood education of young children because that is the foundation. To make this foundation strong, ECD strategies must be clear, caregivers or teachers must be well trained, parents and community people must be aware of needs of children. National policies and framework must be flexible, and accessible to children from low income group and disadvantaged sections of society.
- Shrestha, (2002), "Early Childhood Development:What is it ? What are the Recent Trends and What are the Challenges Confronting its Development in Nepal?" Journal of Early Childhood Development, Research Centre for Educational Innovation and Development(CERID) Balkhu, Nepal
- Shrestha, K., Bajracharya, H. R., Aryal, P. N., Thapa, R., & Bajracharya, U. (2008). Early Childhood Policy Review in Nepal. Kathmandu, Balkhu: CERID.
- UNICEF. (2007, december). Retrieved 5 19, 1011.
- The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports Nepal. (2000) Retrieved September 5, 2004.
- Department Of Education, D. (2010, December 15). Balbikas Calender. Balbikas Calender. Kathmandu, Sanothimi Bhaktapur: Department Of Education.
- Nepal, G. O. (Nov.2011). Flash I Report 2011/012. Sanothimi Bhaktapur: Ministry of Education, Department of Education.