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‘Welcome to School’: Rallying for universal access to education in Nepal
The rallies are part of a national ‘Welcome to School’ campaign to increase the primary-school enrolment of children – especially girls – from low-caste and other disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Last year, UNICEF’s overriding concern was to try to keep schools open and children safe,” said UNICEF Representative in Nepal Suomi Sakai. Following the recent agreement between the parties involved in political strife, added Dr. Sakai, “we are hoping that this year can be a year of growth and peace in schools. In particular, we are hoping that the Welcome to School campaign can continue to bring in the children for whom education has been just a dream.
"There are still half a million children out of school in Nepal. That’s half a million too many!”
One child who has been involved in the campaign is Sangita Gupta, an eighth grader at a local high school in Siyokhor village, Kapilvastu district. “Besides chanting slogans, carrying banners and placards to spread awareness, we announce admission dates and deadlines,” she said. “We also distribute cards inviting parents to enrol their kids at school.”
Initiated by UNICEF and its partners in 2004, Welcome to School was first introduced in 1,600 primary schools in 13 pilot districts. It was launched to help achieve Millennium Development Goal number two: to ensure that all children, girls and boys alike, have access to primary school by 2015.
The campaign was conducted in two phases. First there was an enrolment drive focusing on girls and disadvantaged groups. Next came a push to improve teaching and learning environments so that children could be retained long enough to complete primary school.
UNICEF worked to engage and coordinate partnerships between local governments, non-governmental organizations, other UN agencies and 6,400 community groups.
“Enrolment in our school increased from 356 to 971 in the last one and a half years,” noted the Headmaster of Nepal National High School in Bithuwa village, Lal Chandra Pandey. “This explains that alongside awareness, more and more people are recognizing education as a fundamental right.”
Exceeding enrolment targets
By 2005, the campaign was expanded to all of Nepal’s 75 districts, greatly increasing enrolment and literacy rates for girls and disadvantaged children.
According to data from the Ministry of Education, more than 470,000 children – almost 270,000 girls and over 200,000 boys – have enrolled in primary schools nationwide since the campaign was introduced. This result by far exceeds the enrolment target of 160,000.
Throughout the country, schools, students, teachers and community organizations are rallying to ensure that no child of school age is left without access to education. In many schools, children receive notebooks and pencils as encouragement to come to classes. The Ministry of Education also has provided some 125,000 scholarships to first-time learners entering school, in addition to scholarships for girl students.
Education brings hope
The Welcome to School initiative faces its share of challenges, however. Traditional customs, poverty and lack of infrastructure combine to create impediments to school enrolment in Nepal, particularly for girls.
UNICEF and its partners are working to improve this situation in various ways. For example, pilot programmes are helping disadvantaged girls make the transition from primary to secondary school. Some of these efforts are already beginning to show positive effects.
“People often tell me sending your daughter to school won’t do any good,” said Chandrakala Gupta, mother of an eight-year-old schoolgirl in Bithuwa village. “But I believe the wisdom of education will prevail wherever my daughter goes. For where there’s education, there’s hope.”