KATHMANDU, May 9: As the School Enrollment Campaign (SEC) -- which is being organized by the Ministry of Education (MoE) every year since 2004 -- enters its second phase, groups of local community leaders, teachers and guardians are now reaching out to as many households as possible to enroll maximum number of school-age children in schools.
In the first phase of the SEC, which continued for the first two weeks of the new academic year (2012-2013), the groups -- facilitated by district-level education officials -- enrolled as many school-age children as possible at the primary level. In a follow up to the enrollment drive, which continues till the fourth week of the year, the groups are now searching for left-out children in their respective areas.
"During the ongoing second phase of SEC, we are trying to reach out to every household -- at least in our targeted areas -- to ensure that no child is left out of school," Dr Rojnath Pandey, assistant spokesperson for MoE, says. "We are also staging street-dramas in various local languages to encourage local people to send their children to schools."
In a bid to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG)-2, which is a global commitment for providing primary education to all children within the age group of 5-12, MoE has been carrying out SEC over the last seven years. SEC was launched as a response to an annoying slowdown in the growth of the Net Enrollment Rate (NER).
During the second half of the 1990s -- from 1995 to 2000 -- NER in primary education increased by 12 percentage points. However, the NER shot up only by 5.8 percentage points from 2000-2005. The NER growth, irrespective of SEC, has remained slow over the last decade. The SEC has simply failed to accelerate NER growth.
In fact, a 2009-report by the National Planning Commission (NPC) has already made it clear that increasing NER to 100 per cent by 2015, which is necessary to attain the MDG-2, is unlikely if not impossible. According to the report, NER should have already reached 96 per cent by 2009. However, NER has been just 95.1 per cent even by 2010. Still, 4.9 per cent of school-age children are out of schools.
The 4.9 per cent is not an insignificant number. This means that altogether 122,164 school-age children have yet not come to schools. Only 901,748 out of the total number of school-age children are now at primary level. They account for just 95.1 per cent. MoE has found it difficult to bring the remaining 4.9 per cent of children into schools despite all its interventions including scholarship distribution.
So, who are the 4.9 per cent children? Why are they reluctant to come to schools despite so much publicity about the SEC?
MoE officials say that they are those children who either have no parents or belong to very poor familes. Physically-disabled children, who cannot go to ordinary schools, are also among them. Education experts have long been advocating for a special program to enroll these left-out children.
MoE has started a special enrollment drive along with SEC in several villages of 35 districts from this year. The special drive aims at enrolling children belonging to 22 marginalized communities across the country. "We are aiming to bring at least 36,491 children, including those from marginalized communities, into schools this year," he says.
Even if MoE succeeds in achieving its target, will all the children enrolled in schools during the SEC continue their study? Certainly not. According to the latest flash report prepared by the Department of Education (DoE), only 69.1 per cent of children enrolled at grade one reached grade two in 2010. Of those who failed, 22.6 per cent repeated grade one while 8.3 per cent dropped out.
"Achieving the MDG-2 is not just about bringing all children to schools but retaining them at least till grade five, too," says educationist Dr Kedar Bhakata Mathema. "Enrolling children in schools alone without any program for tackling the high dropout rate is absolutely futile."
MoE provides scholarships to students belonging to Dalit and marginalized communities and girls. This is the only tangible effort taken by MoE in tackling the drop-out rate. "This is not sufficient," says Dr Mathema. According to him, supporting weak students is necessary for reducing the drop-out rate. "The weak students do not understand what teachers teach them in class-rooms. When they fail in exams, they feel humiliated and drop out," says Dr Mathema. "If we introduce a system for supporting the weak students, they will continue their studies."
The question of whether the MoE will achieve NER by 2015 set aside, education experts, including Dr Mathema, questions the authenticity of NER figure. Referring to glaring news-reports about the falsely-inflated number of students for the sake of grants distributed under Per Child Fund (PCF), they say that more children are out of schools.
"I myself doubt that only five per cent of children remain out of schools," says Dr Mathema. If education experts like Dr Mathema are to be believed, MoE will achieve the MDG-2 only in its documents.