By Megha Shakya, November 2022
Historical Context: Prior to 1951, formal school education in Nepal was limited to those connected to the ruling elites resulting in a literacy rate of just under 5 percent of the population. The education system that developed afterwards evolved around excessive value placed on knowledge-based academic education. The government employed those with academic qualifications and paid little attention to the technical skills. This gave rise to the general education system and the goal of the vast majority of students was to secure “jagir” – government administrative service jobs. The needs of business, industry and society in technical fields were left largely unattended.
Technical and vocational education had evolved in Nepal in some way since 1930 when an engineering school was established in the country. However, it was only after 30 years that some significant attention was given to the value of such skills training by establishing Butwal Technical Institute (1962) and the Balaju School of Engineering and Technology (1963). The government ministries and departments ran their own small training programs in technical fields to meet their own internal requirements e.g., skilled staff in agriculture, forestry, health, education (teacher training), construction, electricity etc. just to name a few. To meet the needs of cottage and rural industries, the government Cottage and Rural Industry Department has run various skills training through its branches in all the districts of the country. However, the outcome of these trainings so far has been very insignificant in terms of the country’s real needs.
Developments: It was only in 1989 that a major development evolved when the government created the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) as the lead organization in the country to provide short-term and long-term trainings in technical and vocational education. Standardized courses of varying lengths, from a one-week long training to a three-year long diploma, were developed along with the system of skills testing and certification. The goal was to help address national poverty in the country by providing technical skills so that people could start earning right after such training. However, accessibility of such training for the vast majority of people has been limited.
At the present time, CTEVT has 876 courses offered by its own 45 centers, 429 affiliated training institutions, 397 schools designated as Technical Education and Community Schools and 5 partnerships across the country. In addition, there are 1082 institutions that offer various short-term skills training. Annually, 60,000 seats are available for the long-term training in the whole country. In addition, there are other private training institutions such as Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management,Nepal Mountain Academy, Health Training Center etc. providing diploma, bachelors and masters level skills training.
Challenges: Yearly over half a million youths aged 15 – 24 years enter the labour market in the country. Only 5 percent of this number are youngsters with technical and vocational skills. The unemployment and underemployment rates in the country have remained very high. This is one of the reasons why there has been a large-scale exodus of Nepalese youths to find foreign employment. Currently, it is estimated that around 7 million Nepalese youths are working as unskilled workers in the Gulf countries, Korea, Malaysia, and India. Their remittances have contributed a major share in the country’s GDP – 23 percent in the year 2021.
The productive sectors in Nepal are at their lowest in terms of their contribution to GDP with agriculture contributing 25.8 percent, and industries 13.1 percent. Once a rice exporting country in the early ‘50s, Nepal today has to rely on imports of this staple food. There is a labour shortage in the rural area even for farm workers as the youths are working in foreign countries. Manufacturing industries are very few. From 1996, when political unrest started in Nepal, to the present, dozens of large industries under the public sector have been shut down one after the other e.g., factories producing paper, clothing, shoes, rubber and tyre, rosin and turpentine, agricultural tools, cigarette, bricks and tiles, trolley bus services, etc. The decline in the growth of agricultural and industrial sectors in the country meant a greater stress to the economy. The government has increasingly resorted to foreign loans to finance its annual budgets.
Today, the literacy rate of Nepal has reached 67.9 percent. However, the education system is still skewed towards general education. A growing number of youngsters exposed to modern education in the urban centers like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Dharan etc. is moving to such countries as Australia and the US for further studies. The schools and colleges in those countries have a policy of recruiting foreign students for their own reasons. Upon completion of their courses, those countries are absorbing these students, themselves benefiting their domestic economy. Since technical and vocational training is expensive, as it requires raw materials, tools and equipment, the vast majority of people due to their low household income is unable to afford the relatively high fees associated with technical and vocational training. This has further deprived women and marginalized people.
About 60 to 70 percent of the people with technical and vocational education get employment in Nepal upon the completion of their training. There is a growing understanding that a periodic and comprehensive assessment of the needs of technical and vocational skills in the country in all the geographic regions and sectors of the economy should be carried out and training programmes developed accordingly. Further, the skill sets most in demand in the Middle East and other countries in the field of building construction, factories, etc. should be clearly studied and commensurate training courses offered in Nepal so that the youths can at least work in better paying jobs as technicians as against simple labourer which is generally the case at the moment.
READI Nepal – For the past 12 years, TRAS has supported a small local NGO in the north western district of Humla – difficult to get to and even to correspond with. READI is the brainchild of three young men from Humla who wanted to improve life for local underprivileged youth from all castes by giving them a decent education, while at the same time training their parents in a variety of income generating skills. The 30 children who joined the TRAS-funded hostel and schooling have now all graduated with flying colours and have joined a variety of technical trainings or are continuing their academic education. READI has built on its excellent reputation by being able to construct its own school, and the hope is that it will offer technical trainings as well as general education (currently the READI students walk three days to reach the nearest technical schools – there are no roads, only mountain paths out of Humla).
IDEA Nepal -TRAS’s symbolic support of 4 young rural girls in their midwifery training in western Nepal in July 2019 was a response to the specific request from Innovative Development Education Academy (IDEA), as these students were unable to afford this training. The country, with its vast number of rural areas still not covered by adequate medical services, is experiencing challenges for women having to deliver babies at home. Although basic health services have improved remarkably in the last 50 years in Nepal, there still remains a large number of rural areas where even basic birthing services are inaccessible to women which forces them to deliver babies at home. While traditional midwifery services are provided by the women in the neighborhood where hospital and health centers are not in easy reach, such traditional services provided by untrained individuals pose serious risks to maternal health as well as to the baby. To address this issue, midwifery courses have been provided by government and private institutions affiliated with CTEVT in various parts of the country. IDEA is one organization that has been providing such a course to women in the mid western Nepal since 1984.
TRAS provided financial support to the 4 students in 2019 for the 18-month course provided by IDEA. Encouraged by the success of this program, TRAS agreed to support ten more rural students. Due to the ongoing pandemic of Covid-19 and lack of clarity of government directive, the intake process was on hold from September 2020. However, recently the CTEVT came up with a policy that requires institutions offering midwifery courses of 36 months to have their own 100 bed hospital services. The 18-month course has been disbanded. This is a dramatic step that has effectively shut down the businesses of about one hundred training institutions across the country as they cannot meet this requirement. IDEA, which does not meet this requirement, is now unable to run its current midwifery program and is compelled to look for alternatives. The girls and women from poor communities wanting to be trained as midwives may not be able to achieve their dream as the longer midwifery course will be out of their reach financially. Currently, IDEA has had approval for an advanced intensive course for people who already have some midwifery skills and TRAS is supporting a pilot project. We are waiting to hear if this plan will be successful.