A guest post from Emily Rose Hockenhull, a RESULTS UK grassroots advocate from the Central London group.
Aside from the World Cup, the hashtag on everyone’s lips is #BecauseOfSchool. The campaign led by RESULTS UK and other groups is a chance to reflect on what school has done for us – the opportunities it has given us – in time for the UK Government’s funding replenishment announcement for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) on 25th June.
I realise my luck living in country with a quality education system, with the opportunity to go to university. I am now studying for my Masters, which has led me to Nepal to conduct my own research. I first travelled to Nepal as a volunteer with DFID’s International Citizen Scheme, when I helped teach sexual and reproductive health practices in the village of Sunkhani, an area in the hilly Dolakha district.
Nepal is a beautiful country, the home of the Himalayas and Mount Everest. However, it suffers from high levels of poverty, gender discrimination and illiteracy, widespread malnutrition, and poor health care and governance. Although technically abolished in 1963, the caste system first put in place in the late 1800s still marginalises many people.
This time round, I visited the VSO office in a suburb of Kathmandu to meet Raj Kumar Gandharba, who has been Senior Programme Manager for Education at VSO Nepal since 2008. Raj has taught in the public school system for 16 years, working with NGOs and championing gender equality and the rights of marginalised communities, helped by the GPE.
The public education system in Nepal is considered poor. This year only 43% of students passed the School Leaving Certificate, the equivalent of the GCSEs. Classrooms are crowded and the buildings that look like they might collapse on top of you at any minute.
Teacher absence is a major problem in Nepal’s public schools, and Raj attributes this to a number of factors. Support of teachers by political parties makes them difficult to dismiss, compounded by failures to disseminate hiring policy and protocol. There are few salary incentives for teachers or pressures from the teaching community, and only weak engagement from school management committees, parent teacher associations and local communities.
Raj is looking beyond tackling teachers and schools in isolation. With VSO, he is part of the GPE-supported civil society network of partners working in communities to inform people of their rights. They encourage parents to take an interest in their children’s education by asking questions and visiting the schools.
VSO also works with political parties to avoid teachers building up substantial absences, and encourages them to allow social and economic audits of schools. These aim to trace money given to schools and reduce the funding pathway from up to 33 steps to just seven, meaning it is also quicker to reach schools.
Raj coaches staff to advocate for these causes and for wider issues such as the role of education in the post-2015 framework. It is difficult to do justice to the work that he does. His passion for gender equality, inclusivity and Nepal’s development is clear how he speaks, and from his journey through the education system.
Like Raj, many of the teachers in the school in which I worked were full of enthusiasm and energy. They promoted gender equality and the inclusion of children from marginalised communities, and the children were hard working and ready to learn, going on to above results above the national average.
Raj praises the GPE for its strong engagement with civil society at local, national, regional and global levels. The results it has helped to achieve by working with governments and civil society organisations in partner countries are vital for wider development in countries such as Nepal.
I for one am hoping that all of us who have benefited from education add their voice to RESULTS UK’s Write to Learn campaign. Then it’s over to world leaders at the replenishment conference later this week, to deliver funds so that the GPE can continue supporting the incredible work being done by people like Raj all over the world, ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised can access quality education.