The results of the national census conducted in 2078 BS have been out. As per the results, the population of the country is 29.16 million. As regards literacy, 76.3 per cent of the total population five years or above is literate. The male literacy rate is 83.6 per cent, while the female literacy rate is 69.4. The literacy rate was 65.9 per cent (male 75.1 per cent and female 57.4 per cent) during the 2068 BS census. This shows an increase of 10.4 per cent in the literacy rate over the last ten years.
Level-wise, the early childhood development (ECD) level has 4.4 per cent literacy, the primary level has 28.7 per cent, the lower secondary level has 19.9 per cent, the upper secondary level has 15.4 per cent, the SEE or equivalent level has 9.5 per cent and the plus two or above level has 19.5 per cent (intermediate 12.7 per cent, graduate 4.6 per cent and postgraduate 2.2 per cent). The percentage of people becoming literate through non-formal education stands at 1.8.
The government has made a huge investment in the education sector. Over the last 14 years, the government has spent over Rs. 14 billion. It was expected that the literacy rate would reach around 85 per cent but it has remained short by around 10 per cent. It is considered a big setback in the target set by the government. The successive governments have launched various programmes aimed at increasing literacy: the Primary Education Project (PEP 1980), community learning centres (CLCs), Basic and Primary Education Project (BPEP 1992-2004), EPF 2000 and Education for All National Plan of Acton (EFANPA 2001-2015).
Of these programmes, CLCs are running all over the country. The others were partially successful. It would be germane to note that the government also launched the National Literacy Campaign in 2008 with support from the Non-Formal Education Centre. The campaign focuses, inter alia, on basic and functional literacy; livelihood or income-generating skills; health awareness; and civil education or life skills. The successive governments have made endeavours to make the Literate Nepal campaign a success by instructing all the districts to make their districts literate. When 95 per cent of the people from 15 to 59 years of age become literate, the district can be declared a literate district. Till now, 62 districts have been declared literate districts.
The educational programmes of the government are related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 4 is concerned with education. In a nutshell, it aims at ensuring lifelong learning; ensuring equity, inclusion and gender equality; and ensuring effective learning; and acquisition of relevant knowledge, skills and competencies.Despite huge investments, the educational programmes have not produced desired results. In this fiscal year, the government has set aside Rs. one billion so that the country can be declared literate in two years.
The government has made every effort possible to increase the literacy rate and materialise the Literate Nepal campaign. In the urban areas, the educational scenario is good. There are educated parents and there are also many schools and colleges. But such is not the case in the rural areas. There is a high dropout rate in the rural areas. The breakdown of literacy rates for various levels of education also proves it. The literacy rate is the highest at the primary level at 28.7 per cent and the lowest at the postgraduate level at 2.2 per cent.
As per the law, there is a provision for free and compulsory education up to the lower secondary level (up to class 8) and free education from class 9 to 12 in government schools. There is also provision for free midday meals up to the lower secondary level under the midday meal scheme. Still, the number of students in the rural areas drops from one level to the other. There may be socio-economic reasons for this undesirable phenomenon. Children from poor families are compelled to help their families by earning. Although they join school, they are bound to drop out of school. There is a practice of early marriage in the rural areas. Girls of school-going age get married early in their life. Most of such girls do not continue their studies after marriage.
There are also shortcomings on the part of the government. Textbooks and other educational materials do not reach the rural and remote areas in time. In some districts, students have to appear in the final examinations without textbooks. Scarcity of textbooks in the rural and remote areas has become a perennial problem, but the government has not paid much heed to this matter connected with the future of students. The officials concerned have ignored the timely distribution of textbooks. This is one of the reasons why the dropout rate is increasing in some parts of the country. The country is going to be a developing one in 2026 and aims at becoming a middle-income nation by 2030. In common with other countries, the country is also bound to fulfil the SDGs by 2030.
With this in view, the government should pull out all the stops to bring the Literate Nepal campaign to cent per cent success. For this, the government should review and take stock of the overall educational environment and identify the factors responsible for forcing students. At the same time, the government should also accelerate the enrolment campaign across the country. And the shortage of textbooks should be addressed once and for all. The problem can be solved by printing and distributing textbooks in a timely manner. After all, the investments made so far by the government in the education sector should not be allowed to go down the plug-hole.
(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.)