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Background to Nepal

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is estimated that 20 million Nepalis will be living in absolute poverty by the year 2010. The average life expectancy is 57 years, and up to 65 percent of the population is illiterate. The government has taken steps to address the problem of illiteracy by introducing free education from grades 1 through 6 in formal public schools, as well as committing itself to giving free education up to the secondary level.

Nepal's per capita income is around $300 USD. Based on national calorie/GNP criteria, an estimated 31% of the population is below the poverty line. An isolated, agrarian society until the mid-20th century, Nepal entered the modern era in 1951 without schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, electric power, industry, or a civil service. The country has, however, made progress toward sustainable economic growth since the 1950s and is committed to a program of economic liberalization.

Despite these initiatives, there still exist severe problems within the educational system in Nepal. A high percentage of the country's 60 ethnic groups do not benefit from free education due to social prejudice and geographical restrictions. Additionally, the education offered is based on curricula and methodologies that are outdated. Founded on a mixture of old Nepalese and Indian systems with a strong British colonial influence, they are often far removed from the people's needs and cultural history. More importantly, there is no provision for early childhood education for children up to age 6.

In Nepal, not all children have the luxury of attending school. From primary school age, they are often considered old enough to work and to help support their family. Girls, not considered to be of intellectual value, are often entirely denied the benefits of an education. Trafficking in women and child labor remain serious problems. Discrimination against women and lower castes is prevalent.

In those private institutions where early childhood education is available, there are many impediments to the quality of education. The kindergartens teach children through rote memorization, forcing students to absorb great quantities of information they do not understand. Children are demanded to read and write before their intellectual capacities are sufficiently mature. In short, the current early childhood education practices in Nepal turn children away from the joys of learning.

In Nepal, many children suffer from malnutrition and disease, which affects their health for the rest of their lives. Intervention in early childhood through education supports building the strong foundation these children need for later life and educates their parents on the emotional, nutritional, and educational needs of their children.

Nepalese children daily encounter the demoralizing effects of poverty combined with the social bombardment of globalization and tourism. As a result, the Nepalese identity is at risk of disintegrating, crippling Nepal as its people try to maneuver in today's world.