When I taught in a Nepali government school, the biggest problem I faced was not poor facilities. Motivated teachers don’t need much beyond chalk and a blackboard. The biggest problem was that so many children studied below their grade level.
In Nepal, many Grade 6 students read at Grade 3 level. Many Grade 7 students cannot add or subtract, much less multiply or divide. Students lag behind by three or four years, and not just a few students, sometimes half the class may be behind.
This is an enormous problem, made worse by Covid-19. Few schools recognise the issue, or have skills and resources to address it. Public school teachers are too busy dealing with daily challenges. Students are therefore missing the chance to learn.
Nepali students fall behind for many reasons. Some come unprepared for Grade 1 or 2, others get pulled out of school temporarily and never catch up. Some attend school irregularly, or struggle.
Seven Years in Tityang, Sangmin Kim
While the problems children face at home are socio-economic, the barriers at school are many: uninspiring and irregular teaching, low teacher expectations, and poor school management.
Schools where students fall behind rarely have the skills or resources needed to help them catch up. Some schools give up on them, dismissing the students as not capable instead of investing more time in helping them out. Low expectations become self-fulfilling.
Many students lose confidence and drop out. They decide school is not worth the time, and join their parents in earning an income for their families. Or, they stay in school and move from grade to grade, year after year. Lacking a base to build upon, they lag farther and farther behind.
In subjects like Math or English that scaffold skills one on top of another, the students often just go through the motions, copying things but not understanding, and not really learning anything.
Students either fail, or they cheat to move along. Cheating is widespread. That is how high school students, despite years of study, can barely read or write in English or Nepali. Many of the students are from diverse backgrounds who speak their mother tongue at home.