NIEPA-NEPAL Cooperation on Decentralised District Level Planning of Education
Over the last four and half decades of planned interventions, Nepal has made remarkable progress towards development of basic and primary education. Literacy rate in Nepal has steadily increased from 5 per cent in early 1950s to around 48 per cent in late 1990s. However, low enrolment of girls and children from disadvantaged groups, high dropout rate, especially in grade I, high repetition rate, and low internal efficiency of the primary education system still continue to be some of the major development concerns. For example, in the late 1990s, approximately 10 out of hundred children enrolled in grade I could complete primary cycle without repeating at least one grade.
By the end of the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1998-2002), the targets, therefore, were to raise the literacy rate to 70 per cent (60 per cent for women and 80 per cent for men); to enroll 0.78 million out-of school children; and to reduce the dropout rate at primary level (grades I-V) to below 25 per cent. Towards the development of basic and primary education, the Government of Nepal also implemented a major externally aided project called the Basic and Primary Education Programme (BPEP) in 1991. The Phase I of this project continued up to 1997. The BPEP (Phase II) was then implemented in 1998, which aimed at addressing many development issues of basic education. Decentralized planning and governance, which was adopted as a major strategy to implement the education reform programmes in the 1990s, became a major strategy of the BPEP. Implementing community-based school improvement planning was in fact a major challenge at the beginning of the BPEP (Phase II).
Since 1980s, the Government of Nepal has been emphasizing on the growth-augmentation role of the education. Development of basic and primary education is considered critical for eradication of human poverty in Nepal. Accordingly, development of basic and primary education was one of the priority areas for intervention during the Eighth and Ninth Five-Year Plan period. The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2003-2007) also confirms the renewed commitment of the government towards poverty reduction, and to bring about reforms in the education sector. Decentralization of planning and management has been adopted as one of the major strategies to implement economic and education sector reforms. Several enabling conditions to facilitate decentralization in planning and management of reform programmes have been created since early 1990s. These initiatives have been made to create and strengthen local level governments, including Village Development Committees (VDCs), District Development Councils (DDCs), School Management Committees (SMCs), etc. In fact, the Decentralization Act of 1982 gave the basis for designing reform programmes in the economic and social sectors in Nepal. Most importantly, the Decentralization Act (1982) gave decision-making authority to District Education Councils (DECs) and School Management Committees. However, the Decentralization Act remained a mere rhetoric, and could not be effectively implemented till the early 1990s. The Local Self-Government (LSG) Act (1999) and the 7th Amendment of the Education Act (2002) gave further impetus to the process of decentralization in Nepal. The LSG Act, 1999 provides for constitution of local bodies for the development of local systems of self-governance, and the 7th Amendment of the Education Act, 2002 places emphasis on empowering the School Management Committees, thereby facilitating the process of bottom-up planning and management of education.
In the above context, during the BPEP (Phase I), efforts were made to delegate more responsibility to the District Education Offices to initiate decentralized community-based planning and management exercises. Unfortunately, decentralized planning did not happen during this period. Therefore, BPEP (Phase II) called for community capacity-building and the creation of around 4,000 Village Education Committees. The basic objective was to make the efforts towards decentralization in the education sector more meaningful and sustainable. However, lack of capacity to plan and implement reform programmes in a decentralized mode (i.e. taking district as the lowest viable unit for planning in the basic and primary education sub-sector) was recognized as a major constraint. Later, as one of the institutional arrangements to facilitate capacity building in decentralized planning and management, a Working Group for Decentralization (WGD) was constituted. One of the primary responsibilities of the WGD is to create and sustain the necessary planning and management capacity at various decentralized levels.
Over the years, the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) has been focusing its attention on creating and strengthening planning and management capacity at the sub-national, national and international levels. The Institute has played a significant role in facilitating decentralized planning and management in general, and planning and management of some of the major externally funded basic education development programmes in India like the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), the Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Project (UPBEP), the Bihar Primary Education Project (BPEP), the Andhra Pradesh Primary education Project (APEP), etc in particular. Currently, the Institute is also playing an important role in facilitating development and appraisal of the district level elementary education plans under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) of the Government of India.
Keeping in view the experiences of the Institute, and as part of the efforts towards capacity building in decentralized planning and management of basic and primary education, the MOES (DOE), Government of Nepal and DANIDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi (INDIA) in May 2003. The MoU was in fact an outcome of the findings of several Missions of the NIEPA Team to Nepal to understand the process of decentralization, and to identify the areas for capacity building in order to facilitate decentralized planning in education in Nepal.