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NEPAL: Gender Inequality in Education Has Deep Roots

Lynette Lee Corporal

KATHMANDU, Jun 13 2008 (IPS) - A shortage of female teachers, lack of proper training, inadequate delivery of services and indifferent attitudes combine to add to gender inequality in education in this small Himalayan nation.

These were some of the observations international observers made after visiting the southern districts of Kapilvastu and Rupendehi this week, ahead of a just-finished regional United Nations meeting on gender inequality in education here.

Organised by the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI), a partnership that aims to narrow the gender gap in primary and secondary education, the field visits were part of the regional technical meeting of the UNGEI Global Advisory Committee here on Jun. 11-12.

UNGEI is the ‘Education For All’ flagship movement to narrow the gender gap in primary and secondary education. By 2015, it aims to see all boys and girls able to complete primary schooling and having equal access to all levels of education.

"While we have noted some very positive aspects, such as that of girls coming forward and eager to receive education. Still, the challenge on the secondary level is very huge," commented Jyotsna Jha, advisor on gender and education and HIV/AIDS of the British-based Commonwealth Secretariat, which is part of UNGEI.

Girls’ enrollment in primary schools in Nepal reached up to 87.4 percent, but this falls when it comes to lower secondary and secondary levels had 49.6 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively, as of 2007 figures released by the United Nations. In contrast, boys' enrollment stood at 90.7 percent for the primary level, 56.1 percent for lower secondary, and 37.7 percent for secondary.


Overall, only 15 to 20 percent of girls who attend primary school go on to the secondary level, according to Laxman Aryal, resource person of the Parsohiya Resource Centre.

Although the girls' enrollment rate on the primary level is high, the lack of quality learning opportunities for girls is a reflection of "how communities still give priority to boys when it comes to quality education", says Nora Fyles, senior advisor on education of the Canadian International Development Agency, which is part of UNGEI’s Global Advisory Committee.

In a society where boys are still much preferred over girls who are often considered burdens to the family, the latter bear the brunt of inadequate educational opportunities. Boys are expected to get higher education and get good jobs.

Children in Kapilvastu and Rupendehi come from agricultural or wage labourer families. A significant number of Muslim communities also lives in the area, as shown by the presence of more than 50 madrasahs (religious seminaries) in both districts.

Of the 200 madrasahs in the country, nine have started integration into the formal school system, where students are taught specific subjects from the government and madrasah curricula.

According to Kapilvastu's district education officer Rakesh Srivastav, the country's Education for All programme for primary and secondary education has resulted in increased enrollment of girls, dalits and other ethnic groups, the expansion of government centres and the mainstreaming of madrasahs. Still, he said, more needs to be done.

"We're particularly having problems in the southern areas of this district. The community is not interested in sending their kids to school. There is lack of awareness, and infrastructure are inadequate," said Srivastav.

Poverty, he added, is still the main cause of disinterest. In most cases, children living in village areas are discouraged from goping to school during the planting and harvesting seasons. While their parents work in the fields, children are tasked to babysit siblings and do household work.

"Most of them don't come to school regularly because of this. Also, parents can't provide for their kids' educational material on time. Then there's also the question of early marriage for girls, which prevents them from getting higher education," said Parsohiya’s Aryal.

Aryal also noted that girls are often sent to public schools while boys are sent to better quality boarding schools. "This is the reason why you see more girls than boys on level five," he pointed out.

According to Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2008, secondary school enrollment among girls in the East Asia-Pacific region including Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Pakistan and Afghanistan is only 20 percent. Lao PDR, Burma and Nepal stayed at 40 percent. Female youth literacy, in general, is expected to remain high up to 2015.

In the Kapilvastu and Rupendehi districts, for instance, primary level enrollment for girls in school year 2007-2008 showed a decrease in level five. While there were 472 girls in Grade 1, there were only 331 girls in grade five in Kapilvastu. In Rupendehi, 1,978 girls enrolled in the first grade and only 1,451 are in the fifth grade.

Human resources have also become a problem. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Nepal deputy representative Ugochi Daniels, Nepal has a "particular challenge about human resources. So many Nepalis go abroad to look for better jobs. As soon as you train them, they go".

For the two female teachers of the Dharma Bhakta Primary, the struggle for equality continues also in their professional careers.

"I would like to have more training on how to teach effectively on various subjects. We haven't heard of any being offered at the moment," said 22-year-old Sashi Kele Chaudhary, who was appointed by the school management committee to teach classes 1-5.

Sumambela Srivastav, 35, has five more years to go before she loses the chance to enter the government's quota system for teachers and get a permanent post.

"For this, I need to have a licence. Unfortunately, I have not passed the licensure exam because I don't have the proper training," said Srivastav, who once sold her jewellery for 20,000 Nepali rupees (290 US dollars) to be able to get the pre-requisite 10-month pre-service training needed so she can be eligible for the teacher's licence exam and be assured of a permanent status as a teacher.

In Kapilvastu district, there are only 230 permanent female teachers on the primary level, as opposed to 759 males, according to Srivastav.

The sole breadwinner of an extended family, Srivastav’s husband is unemployed. Despite her meagre earnings of 1,300 Nepali rupees (19 dollars) a month, she nonetheless sends her seven-year-old son to private school.

Chaudhary and Srivastav both teach a mixed class of Early Child Development and Level 1 students in one small classroom.

"It's a reality that there is a lack of teaching and learning environment in villages. The children don't open their books at home, busy as they are helping with household work or in the farm. The teacher-student ratio also needs to be improved," said Aryal. "Then, of course, there is the perennial problem of lack of classrooms."

The children's responses seem indicative of the lack of encouragement from parents about higher education, including those in madrasahs. When asked what he likes to do when he grows up, 10-year-old Nandani Chaudhary said she likes studying Nepalese. "I haven't thought about what I want to be when I grow up," she said shyly.

Despite the problems especially in the southern region, the Kapilvastu district education office is optimistic that the trend will be reversed. "Our district education plan is now focused on the Terai region and interventions are also being diverted toward the area," said Srivastav, who hails from this region that is home to different ethnic rebel groups demanding autonomy.

 
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