© UNESCO.R. Dominique

The Non-Formal Education Centre, the spearhead of literacy education in Nepal, has been awarded the 2010 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its ability to reach the most disadvantaged communities, whether living in cities or in the remotest corners of the country, considerably raising the literacy rate in the space of just three years.

Non-formal education to boost literacy in Nepal

How can an entire population be taught literacy in a land of mountains, lost valleys and deep forests? Rising to this challenge, Nepal’s Ministry of Education and Sports mandated the Non-Formal Education Centre (NFEC) to draw up a national outreach programme for marginalized population groups, especially women. According to the most recent statistics, 37% of Nepal’s people could not read or write in 2008-2009. While the first National Literacy Campaign is believed to have reached 3 million people there are still some 5 million people to be taught literacy by 2015.

The Community Learning Centres (CLC), of which there are more than 1,000, have a key role to play. Their work affects all sections of the public: adults, with a special course for women, additional courses to consolidate what the newly literate have learned and, of course, children who have dropped out of school or not even had the opportunity to attend school.

The adults and adolescents’ programme has been designed for a very wide age-group from 14 to 45 years. Launched immediately after democracy was established in 2007, it is geared to people who have not been to school. Classes consist of at least 20 adults. Lessons are two hours long and are held six days per week. The purpose is not merely to learn to read and write in Nepali but also to deal with problems that anyone may encounter in daily life. It aims to inculcate democratic principles and to provide tools to enable people to engage in economic activity.

It is estimated that 17% of children do not attend school while 12% drop out early. These children are mainly young Nepalese in the 6 to 14 age group, belonging to ethnic minorities, poor classes or casts, or live in isolated regions. After three years of classes, successful pupils may be admitted to the formal school system at the fourth year level.

Through these various programmes, the authorities have shown that education can be acquired at any age and everywhere. The point is not merely to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, but also to receive civic education, to acquire knowledge about maternal and child health and family planning, not to mention maintaining cultural traditions. The promoters of these programmes are convinced that full literacy within the population is bound up with the country’s development.

Bernard Giansetto

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