Nepal Education: Providing a Brighter Future for Poor Girls

For many poor girls and their families in rural and remote areas of Nepal, a secondary education support project has put them on the right path to realizing their "dreams of a better future".

Rajkumari Chowdhary is a member of the indigenous Tharu community and lives in a modest home with her husband and daughter in Manchara village, in the Kailali district of the Far-Western Region of Nepal. Rajkumari started working as a domestic helper when she was 10 years old, for a wage of 2,000 rupees (less than US$30) a year, paid not to her but to her parents.

Today, she is determined to chart a very different course for her daughter, Angita. "She will study as much as she can, be independent, stand on her own feet," says Rajkumari with determination.

The ADB-supported Secondary Education Support Project in Nepal is helping make Rajkumari's dreams for her daughter a reality. Co-financed with the Danish International Development Agency and the Government of Nepal, the project was aimed at improving secondary education participation, retention and completion rates in Nepal's remote and mountainous regions.

"Eliminating the gender gap in education is not just a question of evolution as much as it is a question of educational, social and economic policies that have specific operational strategies to enhance girls' participation," says Kowsar Chowdhury, ADB Senior Results Management Specialist (Evaluation).

“When girls have an education they have access to all kinds of opportunities in the job market, community, political and social arenas. Education also empowers them in making important decisions in their public and private lives.”

- Kowsar Chowdhury, ADB Senior Results Management Specialist (Evaluation)

Increasing participation in secondary education

In Nepal's poorest districts, the project built 190 secondary schools, added 200 classrooms to existing schools, and developed new textbooks and other training materials designed to make the curriculum more relevant and responsive to current market needs.

In addition, 60,000 student scholarships were awarded, two-thirds of which went to girls from poor backgrounds, dalits or 'untouchables', and minorities. Student hostels in mountainous and other high-poverty areas were provided to address issues of distance and safety. Ten “feeder hostels” were built in poor areas to accommodate girls attending any secondary school in the area while seven existing girls’ hostels in mountainous areas were renovated.

As a result, girls secondary participation rates and gross enrolment rates exceeded project targets.

"There is clear evidence that the economic and social rates of return to schooling are quite high, and on the whole, higher for women than men," Chowdhury says. "Yet, in most of our developing member countries, women are relatively less educated than men. Girls do not receive the same quality and level of education as do boys."

Better quality teachers, new curriculum

Qualifications standards for teachers were established to maintain quality of teaching, supported by training more than 8,500 existing permanent teachers in public schools. Secondary schools now require teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree. Scholarships for management training were also provided to female teachers from disadvantaged communities while special rental allowances were arranged for teachers to stay nearer to schools in remote locations.

A national curriculum framework was also developed under the project to revamp the secondary education courses and align it better with the needs of the labor market. The new curriculum provides a better foundation for transitioning to higher education as well as technical and vocational education training. At the same time, it integrates local content to make education more relevant.

A better future

As a result of all the projects, pass rates for the exit examinations in public schools more than doubled, jumping from a dismal 32% in 2004 to 68.5% in 2009. This has increased girls' employment prospects.

"By providing scholarships, essential infrastructure, improved teaching, and relevant curriculum for the job market, this project eliminated some of the economic, educational, social, and cultural barriers that girls face," explains Chowdhury.

"When girls have an education, they have access to all kinds of opportunities in the job market and in the community, political, and social arenas. Education also empowers them in making important decisions in their public and private lives."

The hope is that like Angita, many more of Nepal's secondary school graduates will have a better life in the future.