NEPAL: New programme to boost education in rural west

SIHOKAR, 23 October (IRIN) – Local community leaders say education standards in many rural villages in western Nepal are inadequate due to lack of commitment and investment from central government. But the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping to provide new schools for many poor children.

In the remote village of Sihokar in Kapilbastu district, nearly 400 km west of the capital, Kathmandu, many children have no choice but to walk nearly 10 km a day and then study in the open – with no roofs or walls.

The local district education office (DEO) in Kapilbastu told IRIN that most children drop out of school due to the scarcity of teachers and
lack of teaching materials. The United Nations put national primary school attendance rates in 2003 at 73 percent, but education officials say such figures mask areas of very low attendance.

“The education situation is really bad in many poor districts like ours,” said Uma Kanta Mishra, district education officer. He added that nearly 40,000 children in Kapilbastu alone are not attending school. There is a need for more primary schools and teachers in the area: currently there is one school to cover 14 dispersed communities, he explained.

The DEO estimated that there is a need for over 450 teachers, 200 school buildings and 10,000 desks for children in Kapilbastu alone.

“There is really a need for not only schools but child-friendly schools so that children are interested in coming to school,” said Ramdas Mahi from Jyoti Primary School in Kapilbastu. The school was recently constructed with help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under its Primary School Improvement Project (PSIP).

The PSIP is funded by Japanese company Aeon through the Japanese National Committee for UNICEF.

The project has already helped to build several schools in the district and aims to help in the education of over 12,000 children in 57 schools in both Kapilbastu and nearby Parsa district.

“Now we no longer have to endure the summer heat and monsoon rains,” said Arati Chaudhary, a 12-year-old student from Jyoti Primary School. “We don’t want to go home as our classrooms are so comfortable for us,” she added.

Better schools mean that even the poorest parents in the district are now more committed to getting their children educated, officials have pointed out.

“In these new schools, the children are so attentive in their studies and they go home having received a proper education,” said Chandrakala Upadhyaya from the Rural Illiteracy Society [for?] Education (RISE), a local NGO working in partnership with UNICEF to help increase the enrollment of girl students.

“Such an education programme with child-friendly school buildings should be replicated in the rest of the country,” said Kul Chandra Gautam, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, during a visit to the village last week.

The Department of Education (DoE) also has plans to build over 4,000 new classes in rural schools across the
western region of the Himalayan kingdom leading to a boost in attendance from poor children, the department hopes.

Reuters AlertNet, 2006 October 23

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