A brief history of education in Nepal
Education under Rana Rule
The Rana rulers, who placed Nepal under their feudal yoke for about 100
years until the beginning of the 1950s, feared an educated public. This
fear also was held by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who established
Tri-Chandra College in 1918 and named it after himself. During the inauguration
of the college, Chandra Shamsher lamented that its opening was the ultimate
death knell to Rana rule. He personally felt responsible for the downfall
of Rana rule, and his words became prophetic for the crumbling of Rana
political power in 1950-51.
The privileged access of members of the higher castes and wealthier economic
strata to education was for centuries a distinguishing feature of society.
The Ranas kept education the exclusive prerogative of the ruling elite;
the rest of the population remained largely illiterate. The Ranas were
opposed to any form of public schooling for the people, although they
emphasized formal instruction for their own children to prepare them for
a place in the government.
The founder of the Rana regime, Jang Bahadur Kunwar, later known as Jang
Bahadur Rana, decided to give his children an English education rather
than the traditional religiously oriented training. In 1854 Jang Bahadur
engaged an English tutor to hold classes for his children in the Rana
palace. This act tipped the balance in favor of English education and
established its supremacy over the traditional type of Sanskrit-based
education. In 1991 English education still carried a higher status and
prestige than did traditional education.
Jang Bahadur's successor opened these classes to all Rana children and
formally organized them into Durbar High School. A brief shift in government
education policy came in 1901, when Prime Minister Dev Shamsher Rana took
office and called for sweeping education reforms. He proposed a system
of universal public primary education, using Nepali as the language of
instruction, and opening Durbar High School to children who were not members
of the Rana clan. Dev Shamsher's policies were so unpopular that he was
deposed within a few months. His call for reforms did not entirely disappear,
however. A few Nepali-language primary schools in the Kathmandu Valley,
the Hill Region, and the Tarai remained open, and the practice of admitting
a few middle- and low-caste children to Durbar High School continued.
Before World War II (1939-45), several new English middle and high schools
were founded in Patan, Biratnagar, and elsewhere, and a girls' high school
was opened in Kathmandu. In the villages, public respect for education
was increasing, largely as a result of the influence of returning Gurkha
soldiers, many of whom had learned to read and write while serving in
the British army. Some retired soldiers began giving rudimentary education
to children in their villages. Some members of the high-caste, elite families
sent their children to Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, or
other universities in India for higher academic or technical training.
It was in fact, some of these students, having realized how oppressive
the policies of Rana rule were, who initiated antiRana movements, provided
revolutionary cadres, and finally began the revolution that ultimately
led to the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951.
Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had 310 primary and middle schools,
eleven high schools, two colleges, one normal school, and one special
technical school. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was 5
percent. Literacy among males was 10 percent and among females less than
1 percent. Only 1 child in 100 attended school.
Education since 1951
After the 1951 revolution, efforts were made to establish an education
system. The National Education Planning Commission was founded in 1954,
the All Round National Education Committee in 1961, and the National Education
Advisory Board in 1968 in order to implement and to refine the education
system. In 1971 the New Education System came into operation as an integral
part of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75); it was designed to address
individual, as well as societal, needs in concert with the goals of national
Formal schooling in modern times was still constrained by the economy
and culture. Children were generally needed to work in the fields and
at home. Many students began school late (at ages nine or ten); more than
half left school after completing only one year. Educating females was
viewed as unnecessary; as a consequence, their enrollment levels were
far lower than those of males. Regional variations often hindered the
effectiveness of uniform text materials and teacher training. Although
the government was relatively successful in establishing new schools,
the quality of education remained low, particularly in remote regions
where the majority of the population lived. Terrain further inhibited
management and supervision of schools.
Most schools operated for ten months of the year, five and onehalf days
a week. In the warmer regions, June and July were vacation months; in
the northern regions, mid-December through midFebruary were vacation months.
All schools in Kathmandu closed for winter vacation.
In 1975 primary education was made free, and the government became
responsible for providing school facilities, teachers, and educational
materials. Primary schooling was compulsory; it began at age six and lasted
for five years. Secondary education began at age eleven and lasted another
five years in two cycles--two years (lower) and three years (higher).
Total school enrollment was approximately 52 percent of school-age children
(approximately 70 percent of school-age boys, 30 percent of school-age
girls) in 1984. Secondary school enrollment was only 18 percent of the
relevant age-group (27 percent of the total boys, 9 percent of the total
girls). About 72 percent of all students were male. The Ministry of Education
supervised the finance, administration, staffing, and inspection of government
schools. It also inspected private schools that received government subsidies.
As of 1987, Nepal had 12,491 primary schools, 3,824 lowersecondary schools,
and 1,501 higher-secondary schools. There were 55,207 primary, 11,744
lower-secondary, and 8,918 higher-secondary school teachers. Primary school
enrollments totaled 1,952,504 persons; lower-secondary and higher-secondary
enrollment figures stood at 289,594 and 289,923 persons, respectively.
Curriculum was greatly influenced by United States models, and it was
developed with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific,
and Cultural Organization. The National Education Plan established a framework
for universal education. The goal of primary education was to teach reading,
writing, and arithmetic, and to instill discipline and hygiene. Lower-secondary
education emphasized character formation, a positive attitude toward manual
labor, and perseverance. Higher-secondary education stressed manpower
requirements and preparation for higher education. National development
goals were emphasized through the curriculum.
The School Leaving Certificate examination, a nationally administered
and monitored high-school-matriculation examination, was given after completion
of the higher-secondary level. Those who passed this examination were
eligible for college. In addition, some communities had adult education
In the early 1980s, approximately 60 percent of the primary school teachers
and 35 percent of secondary school teachers were untrained, despite the
institution of a uniform method of training in 1951. The Institute of
Education, part of Tribhuvan University, was responsible for inservice
and preservice teacher training programs. Beginning in 1976, the institute
organized a distancelearning program--electronic links between distant
locations--for prospective teachers. Developments in telecommunications
will provide new educational options.
At the higher education level, there was only one doctoral degree-granting
institution in Nepal, Tribhuvan University. It was named after King Tribhuvan
Bir Bikram Shah, the grandfather of King Birendra, and was chartered in
1959. All public colleges fell under Tribhuvan University. Private colleges
were operated independently, although they also were required to meet
the requirements and standards set by Tribhuvan University. The total
number of colleges increased significantly, from 8 in 1958 to 132 in 1988
(69 under Tribhuvan University and 63 private colleges). In terms of subjects,
these colleges covered a wide range of disciplines, such as social sciences;
humanities; commerce (business); physical sciences, including some medical
sciences; engineering; education; forestry; law; and Sanskrit. The number
of students enrolled in higher education institutions totaled almost 83,000
in 1987; the largest percentage was in humanities and social sciences
(40 percent), followed by commerce (31 percent), science and technology
(11 percent), and education (6 percent). Approximately 20 percent of the
students enrolled in Tribhuvan University were females.
The 1981 census found 24 percent of the population to be literate; as
of 1990, the literacy rate was estimated to be 33 percent. There still
was a big gap between male and female literacy rates. About 35 percent
of the male population was literate in 1981, but only 11.5 percent of
the female population was. A gulf also existed in literacy rates between
rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the literacy rates for males and
females were 33 percent and 9 percent, respectively; in urban areas, they
were significantly higher, 62 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The
higher literacy rates in urban areas were largely attributed to the availability
of more and better educational opportunities, a greater awareness of the
need for education for employment and socioeconomic mobility, and the
exodus of educated people from rural to urban areas. Nepal launched a
twelve-year literacy program in 1990, targeting 8 million people between
the ages of six and forty-five.
There was little doubt among observers that the historical monopoly of
educational opportunity by members of the wealthier and higher caste groups
gradually was diminishing. Schools and colleges were open to all, and
enrollment figures were rising rapidly. The long-standing prejudice against
the education of women seemed to be very slowly breaking down, as attested
to by increasing enrollments of girls in schools and colleges. Yet two
distinct biases--social class and geography--remained pronounced in educational
Despite general accessibility, education still nonetheless primarily served
children of landlords, businessmen, government leaders, or other elite
members of the society, for they were the only ones who could easily afford
to continue beyond primary school. They also were far more able to afford,
and likely to continue, education beyond the high school level. Many students
in the general population dropped out before they took the School Leaving
Certificate examination. There was an even more important ingredient for
success after leaving school: if the quality of available higher education
was considered inadequate or inferior, higher caste families could afford
to send their children overseas to obtain necessary degrees. Foreign educational
degrees, especially those obtained from American and West European institutions,
carried greater prestige than degrees from Nepal. Higher caste families
also had the necessary connections to receive government scholorships
to study abroad.
Further, education remained largely urban-biased. The majority of education
institutions, particularly better quality institutions, were found in
urban areas. In rural areas where schools were set up, the quality of
instruction was inferior, facilities were very poor, and educational materials
were either difficult to find or virtually unavailable. Consequently,
if rural families were serious about the education of their children,
they were forced to send them to urban areas, a very expensive proposition
that the vast majority of rural households could not afford.
Although there has been a remarkable numerical growth in the literacy
rates, as well as the number of education institutions over the years,
the quality of education has not necessarily improved. There were few
top-notch teachers and professors, and their morale was low. At the higher
educational level, the research focus or tradition was virtually absent,
largely because there were few research facilities available for professors.
There were some excellent private schools, mostly located in the Kathmandu
Valley, but many appeared to be merely money-making ventures rather than
serious, devoted educational enterprises. The large majority of schools
and colleges were run by poorly prepared and poorly trained teachers and
professors. Schools and colleges frequently were closed because of strikes.
Students had little respect for teachers and professors and were concerned
with obtaining a certificate rather than a quality education. Cheating
was rampant during examinations at all levels.
For this article we are indebted to