In-depth: Between Two Stones - Nepal’s decade of conflict
NEPAL: Decades of damage to education
The climate in schools for many children is one of fear, both of abductions by Maoist rebels and of the soldiers stationed outside schools by the security forces. The lack of teachers in schools also means that many classes are not held
KATHMANDU, 2 February 2006 (IRIN) - The decision in late November 2005 by Nepal’s Maoist rebels to form an alliance with the main political parties against King Gyanendra, has met with muted enthusiasm from many Nepalis, in particular teachers and school students who say that even if peace does come to the Himalayan kingdom, it will take years for Nepal to put its education sector right again.
“The situation with regard to education has become so bad that it will take several decades to restore what we had achieved before the conflict started,” said Dipendra Roka, a schoolteacher in Salle village in Rukum district, about 300 km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.
Like many rural hill districts, Rukum has experienced very low school attendance since the conflict started, due to abductions by rebels who have often forced students and teachers to march to the remotest parts of the district to attend their cultural and "revolutionary orientation" programmes.
Most schools in the district are also running out of books, other teaching materials and even decently-built classrooms, as the government has failed to use the education budget to maintain infrastructure and supplies, local teachers say.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Nepal has an adult literacy rate of only 42 percent. The percentage of illiterate females, it says, is far higher.
Although 82 percent of children are officially enrolled at Nepal's schools nationally, almost half of them are reported by NGOs to drop out of school during the first two years. Nearly three-quarters leave before the completion of primary school. Only around 10 percent complete secondary school education.
Due to a lack of government presence in most rural areas, regional education offices in Rukum, Rolpa, Kalikot and several other Maoist-controlled districts, especially in west Nepal, have not been able to implement their education programmes according to the national curriculum.
“Many children in the villages are dropping out of schools due to a lack of teachers and proper education materials. The conflict has been the main cause,” added Roka, who worked as a Maoist cadre for two years after the rebels forced him to join their ranks.
His main job was to visit schools and expose both teachers and students to the Maoists’ ideology. Five months ago, he escaped and took refuge in a district centre, where he now works at the high school. He fears for his life: if Maoist insurgents find him, he says he will be executed for desertion.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Teachers have been especially targeted in the conflict, allegedly by both rebels and the army. Narjit Basnet’s hand was chopped off by Maoist rebels. He still manages to teach the children at a community school
Since the conflict began in Nepal in February 1996, teachers in the villages have been targeted by both the rebels and the security forces. According to the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a leading Nepali human rights group, at least 141 teachers have been killed during the conflict - 84 by the rebels, and the rest by the security forces.
Another report by the Education Journalists’ Group, a local NGO, revealed that over 200 teachers said they had been tortured by both sides. It added that around 156 teachers disappeared after they were abducted by rebels, or arrested by the state.
“These attacks on teachers are meant to lead to the control of the education system, to use it to indoctrinate children,” said Keshab Bhattarai, president of the Teachers’ Union of Nepal.
Around 19,000 public primary schools in the rural areas serve nearly 3.4 million children. Schools have shut down when rebels wanted to pressure the government to release rebel cadres, or force some other concession from the Kathmandu government.
The government has also been criticised for stationing army and police personnel inside school compounds, exposing students to crossfire when Maoists attack the security forces.
According to a 2005 report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, both the Royal Nepalese Army and the Maoists have been involved in direct attacks on schools. It reported incidents of students having been killed in aerial bombing, as well as random firing into school compounds where Maoists were organising cultural programmes.
Similarly, there were also reports of the Maoists targeting schools. The Asian Centre for Human Rights recorded that between February and May 2005, the rebels attacked 23 schools, bombing six rural schools in one day alone in Rukum.
Private boarding schools in urban areas have not escaped unscathed. Many have been targeted and subject to extortion. According to local NGO, Child Workers in Nepal, nearly 3,000 schools were closed between January and October 2005, due to strikes called by the Maoist’s student’s union.
“Our only hope now is [to have] proper government in place. Only a peaceful resolution to the conflict can save education of our children,” explained teacher Narjit Basnet, whose left hand was chopped off by the Maoists several years ago after he refused to join them. “All I have now is my strong will to teach my students to the best of my ability,” he said at his class in the rundown school in Salle.