“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another” – G.K. Chesterton
Providing universal primary quality education to all is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Various elements influence the quality of education, such as student-teacher ratio, educational content, teaching pedagogy and learning environment. This article discusses how the student-teacher ratio for primary-level schooling fares across Nepal’s seven provinces for 2017-2019.
Education is an essential foundation for a more aware and progressive society. Moreover, education is crucial in helping communities worldwide achieve higher economic growth and maintain balanced social harmony. At the same time, the overall education system and educational infrastructures have significant roles in a country’s education quality. However, a country with a sound education system and state-of-the-art infrastructures, if does not have well-trained teachers, struggles to yield good educational outcomes. For this reason, teachers also play a key role in determining overall educational efficiency.
The student-teacher ratio is one of the prime indicators for assessing the quality of education delivery. It provides us with an outlook on the strength of the educational system of the respective country. The student-teacher ratio at the primary level means the number of primary school students divided by the number of primary school teachers. Simply put, it is the average number of students per teacher in a particular school. For better educational outcomes, it is better to have fewer students per teacher as it allows the teachers to provide more attention to the needs of the students, including one-to-one personal guidance. On the contrary, a single teacher governing a class of many students can be chaotic.
According to the 2019/20 Flash Report published by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), 254,578 teachers trained 5,319,004 primary-level students in Nepal for the year 2019., i.e., a student-teacher ratio of 20.89, comparable to South Asain average of 20:1.
Province-wise Status of Student-Teacher Ratio
Fig: Province-wise student-teacher ratio of Nepal for the year 2017-2019 (CEHRD, 2017, 2018, 2019)
The above figure shows the province-wise student-teacher ratio of Nepal for the years 2017-2019. For all three years, Madhesh province lags behind all the provinces while Gandaki Province stands on the top in terms of the ratio. For example, in 2019, Madhesh had ratio value 42.12 compared to Gandaki, which had a value of 12.52. Comparing these data with the national average of 20.89, Madhesh’s ratio is almost twice the value of national average and the Gandaki has almost half of that of the national average. Since the student-teacher ratio is a reverse indicator (higher the value lower the performance), Madhesh, with the highest score for all three years performs worst under this indicator while Gandaki, on the other hand, performs best among seven provinces with the lowest scores for all three years. However, on the positive side, the overall student-teacher ratio across all the provinces in on decline.
On the other hand, the highest student-teacher ratio for Madhesh Province reflects that this area has been poor in terms of having enough teachers for the existing students. To make things a bit better, in 2018, the Provincial Government launched the Beti Padhau, Beti Bachau campaign. 4,373 girls under 18 years have benefited from the scheme so far. Under this campaign, 14,000 bicycles were distributed to girls, and 100 toilets were constructed for girl students during the last fiscal year. The major issues that Madhesh faces, as highlighted by the locals and education experts, including most local-level education branches being run by retired teachers and the local education department struggling to fill all available teaching positions and frequent transfer of teachers to other schools.
Some Issues Nepal’s Education System Faces
Nepal has long faced a shortage of teachers in the remote northern districts. Even though the government has determined a required teacher-student ratio, it has not been able to send additional teachers to the rural parts of the country to meet its specified ratio. Consequently, most public schools, especially those in the rural parts of the country, have fewer teachers than required. The main reasons behind these limitations include the government’s low priority towards mobilizing more teachers in the rural areas and lower preference and commitment by the teachers themselves.
The constitution of Nepal (2015) provisions the citizens’ inherent rights to free and compulsory education for school-going children. Yet, unfortunately, a substantial number of the most vulnerable and marginalized children are still out of school. As per the Economic Survey 2019/20, over two-thirds of the students enrolled in grade one get out of the school system by the time they reach grade 12. Furthermore, as reported in The Kathmandu Post, out of 100 students enrolled in grade one, 36 leave their studies by the time they get to grade 10. Over the decades, however, Nepal has seen improvement in the overall education system. The country currently has a net enrollment rate of 97 percent. In addition, past initiatives such as free mid-day lunch, free sanitary pads for about 1.35 million girls, and scholarships for girls students from marginalized communities have contributed to lower school dropout rates. To ensure easy access to quality education and reduce the existing gaps, the parliament of Nepal has enacted the Compulsory and Free Education Act, 2018.
In the budget speech of FY 2021/22, the Government of Nepal has appropriated a budget of NPR 180.4 billion out of the NPR 1.64 trillion national budget for the education sector for the upcoming fiscal year. The government plans to adjust the number of teaching positions based on the student-teacher ratio. However, the real challenge lies in its implementation. There should be a transparent implementation and monitoring of other scholarship-related programs, including teacher vacancy matching. While government budget provision is essential, it is even more important to understand education spending and available resources to identify resource and demand/supply gaps.
Province 1 has taken some steps at the provincial level after the local elections in 2017. To ensure quality education, it has started an electronic attendance system to monitor the entry and exit timings of the teachers, established transport services, focused on research and practical-based education and merged schools as per the number of students and geography. These initiatives have created a positive impact on improving the quality of education in community schools. For instance, the number of students attending classes increased to 284 from 258 since the school started the bus facility in Rong, a rural municipality in Ilam. Similar initiatives and learnings can be transferred and practised by other provinces too.
Although Madhesh Province is comparatively more advanced than other provinces in terms of transportation and communication connectivity and the availability of infrastructure, available details show that this province has low education quality as it has the highest student-teacher ratio. Inefficient implementation of teacher management could be identified as one of the primary reasons behind it. Hence, the prime concern of the current and future policy stakeholders in the province should be to improve teacher management mechanisms even further. Finally, local governments and school management teams could work collaboratively to ensure safe and stimulating learning spaces where teachers are well trained, prepared, supervised, and monitored.