Early Childhood Education in Rural Nepal
by Lisa Lyons, Educate the Children
A large and growing body of research supports the common-sense idea that quality early
childhood education (ECE – what we in the U.S. would call preschool and kindergarten) is very important for children’s development and later academic success.
In Nepal, despite the adoption of policies designed to promote universal access to education, ECE programs exist in some places but not others. Rural public schools in particular often do not have ECE programs. Therefore, many students enter Grade 1 unprepared to succeed, and their teachers are insufficiently trained to help them thrive. The results are predictable and unfortunate:
- Grade 1 students repeat very frequently: in 2011/12, 21.3% of Grade 1 students nationwide had to repeat the grade.
- Grade 1 students also drop out at high rates: in 2011/12, 7.9% of Grade 1 children nationwide dropped out. Obviously they have very little chance of living above the poverty level as adults if they have not even completed Grade 1.
- Only about 70% of children who enroll in Grade 1 ever reach Grade 5.
- Nepali is not the first language for many rural children, and it is especially difficult for them to succeed in Grade 1 (which is taught in Nepali) without the important preparation of ECE participation.
- Although 92% of primary-level teachers nationwide had achieved the minimum training for their profession as of 2013, this minimum level is not very rigorous, and primary teachers are therefore not well equipped to cope with unprepared children.
Fortunately, these results are also preventable. Educate the Children has established ECE programs in dozens of schools in Nepal, and these programs continue to thrive many years later. This process is multifaceted and includes:
- Building and furnishing/equipping the new classrooms. Because there are no existing ECE programs in the schools where we work, we build new classrooms and provide child-sized furniture and appropriate classroom materials such as games, charts, storage units, etc.
- Training ECE teachers. Most of the new ECE programs’ teachers are young and inexperienced women who have not had the opportunity to learn extensively about best practices in working with children ages 3-6. Educate the Children provides ongoing training opportunities for ECE teachers, covering such important topics as classroom management, interactive teaching methods, and lesson planning.
- Starting ECE teachers’ networks. We launch professional networks for ECE teachers, through which they can share successes and challenges and learn from one another.
Among the short- and long-term benefits of quality ECE, in our experience, are the following:
- Quality ECE classes help children form good habits of regular attendance, paying attention, and socializing well with peers that will serve them well throughout their lives.
- Proper ECE teacher training helps teachers encourage children’s holistic development and prepare them for higher grades.
- For those children whose first language is not Nepali, participation in ECE helps them learn to cope with Nepali as the usual medium of instruction in later grades.
- One reason girls often drop out of school is to care for younger siblings. However, if small children are in ECE programs, then their older sisters have a better chance to continue their own educations.
In schools where Educate the Children established ECE programs prior to 2009, the dropout rate for Grade 1 students is now only 0.19% – far lower than the national average. Graduation rates for children who started many years ago in our ECE programs are also far higher than the national average.
Educate the Children is delighted to have made a difference in improving educational opportunities for thousands of children, and we look forward to doing so for many more years to come.
Educate the Children’s mission is to work with women and children in Nepal to improve health, welfare, and self-sufficiency by building skills that families can pass down to later generations. Through our children’s education, women’s empowerment, and sustainable agriculture programs, we provide training and resources to help thousands of marginalized and impoverished people make better lives for themselves. For more information about ETC’s education work, please visit our photo essay by clicking here.
Statistics for this article were derived from UNESCO and the World Bank.