As a child, Shila Bhujel was fascinated by white uniforms worn by doctors and nurses. “I really didn’t know what exactly they do, but later when I was 13 or 14, I started noticing how they took care of the sick and saved lives,” she says. Now 17, Shila entertains dreams of joining them. “I want to become a doctor after completing high school,” she says.
Shila, currently in 12th grade, knows that gaining admission to a medical college with a scholarship is not easy. Every year, thousands of students sit for exams but only hundreds are selected to attend. “But I think the way we are being nurtured at the school will help me get the scholarship,” she says.
Shila attends Shree Kalika Secondary School, a community school located at Rambazar, Pokhara, a city in western Nepal. A key difference between her school and over 8,000 other community and public secondary schools in her country: It is one of the 422 that have been selected by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology for upgrading to model schools.
The Nepalese government introduced the concept of model schools in 2016 to end disparity in access to quality education—especially in the secondary level—and improve learning outcomes in science, Mathematics and English subjects in which students perform poorly. The plan seeks to upgrade at least one public secondary school in each of Nepal's 753 municipalities to a model school.
Model schools serve as demonstration sites for improving the quality of teaching and learning in Nepal. The model school program is currently being implemented in 422 community schools offering grades 1-10 or grades 1-12.
A new approach in public education
The model school program is part of the government’s School Sector Development Plan (SSDP), which launched in fiscal year (FY) 2016 and continues until FY2022. The SSDP aims to increase access of all children to quality school education through strategic assistance and reform initiatives to improve the equitable access, quality, efficiency, governance, management and resilience of the education system.
The program is supported by eight development partners including the Asian Development Bank (ADB). ADB has pledged $120 million for SSDP, of which $28 million has been allocated for the model school program under results-based financing.
“Model schools particularly focus on revamping the way subjects such as science, mathematics, and English are taught, as students attending community schools are traditionally weak in these subjects,” says Smita Gyawali, Senior Education Officer at ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission. “Low grades in these subjects have not only created barriers for students intending to pursue tertiary education after high school, but even for those planning to take up vocational courses as well.”
According to Nepalese government guidelines, model schools must have qualified, trained teachers for science, mathematics, and English. Each must also have a full-time head teacher to provide leadership and improve governance while ensuring their school has enough classrooms, science laboratories, information and communication technology (ICT) facilities with internet connectivity, a library, an adequate playground, and water and sanitation facilities. The schools must also make provisions for teaching of science in grades 11 and 12 so as to promote equitable access to science subjects.
Many community schools, especially in rural areas, do not offer science courses in grades 11 and 12. This compels many students to travel to urban centers like Kathmandu, which increases the financial burden on their families. The situation disproportionately affects poor Nepalese students, particularly girls, who often do not receive adequate family support for higher education due to the traditional preference given to boys.
Better infrastructure, improvement in teaching methods
Beginning in FY2018, the government started providing an additional grant of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees per year to community schools like Shree Kalika. Unfortunately, the amount has been reduced to 1 million Nepalese rupees for FY2022 due to budget constraints caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Shree Kalika has used these annual grants to build two three-story buildings. “These new buildings contain an administrative block, better classrooms and ICT facilities, larger toilets, and a laboratory for students pursuing hotel management in grades 11 and 12,” says Balram Giri, the school’s head teacher. Construction began recently on another three-story building where “bigger and better science and ICT labs and a library will be located,” he says.
Viswa Niketan Secondary School in Kathmandu is another model school that has used government grants to expand its physical infrastructure. “We now have better science labs and ICT facilities,” says Heramba Raj Kadel, its head teacher. These resources, he says, have helped the school “to promote practical learning rather than rote learning.”
Mr. Kadel continues: “Nowadays, for example, if a student asks how a heart functions, we do not draw a picture on the blackboard. We show that through a YouTube video, thanks to the model school program that encourages us to use ICT tools, such as laptops and tablets, in classrooms. These improvements are driving up the number of transfer students, especially from private schools. This academic year, we have welcomed 500 new students, 495 of which were transfers from private schools.”
Deepak Sharma, spokesperson for Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, says model schools “are bringing about a change in secondary school education. But it is not yet time to evaluate their achievements, especially learning outcomes, as all schools designated as model schools were not performing well before they were upgraded.”
Mr. Sharma adds the schools “were selected on the basis of their potential to become models for other community schools to emulate. Going forward,” he says, “our plan is to transform each of the model schools into the schools of choice for parents and their children.”
Arnaud Cauchois, ADB Country Director for Nepal says that “education for children means progress for the whole community. It is an essential investment in human development, which is an ADB priority. We are satisfied to see the success achieved by the model schools, and confident that this will be sustained through strengthened school system and governance.”