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Nepal - History & Background

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceNepal - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Nepal is a small landlocked South Asian country of 140,800 square kilometers located between China and Himalayan ranges in the north, and India and the plains of the river Ganges in the south. The country contains 8 of the world's 10 highest peaks with 85 percent of the country being mountainous. The country is organized into 5 development regions consisting of 14 anchals (zones) with 75 districts and 3,995 village development committees (VDCs). Nepal is the only official Hindu country in the world with more than 90 percent of its population following the Hindu religion. In the year 2000, Nepal was a densely populated country with a population of about 25 million people with 41 percent 14 years or younger. The population growth rate was 2.3 percent with a life expectancy of about 58 years. Nepal continues to be among the poorest countries in the world with nearly half of its population living under the poverty line. More than 80 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture that accounts for 41 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Only 17 percent of the country is arable; therefore, the majority of the rural people are engaged in subsistence farming or below subsistence farming. In 1999, Nepal had an outstanding debt of close to 3 billion U.S. dollars in foreign loans.

The modern history of Nepal can be traced to the eighteenth century when the Gurkha Shah family assumed power and established its capital in Kathmandu. In the nineteenth century, the Ranas, who were ministers to the kings, assumed real power, and the Shahs became puppet rulers. In 1860, the British government assumed a guiding rule in Nepal and heavily recruited the famous Gurkha units into the British army that assisted the British in suppressing Indian revolts (1857-1959), World War I (1914-1918), and World War II (1939-1945).

The Rana-British autocracy ended in 1951, when Maharaja Mohan Shamsher Rana was removed from power and the Nepali Congress Party (NCP) formed a government headed by Matrika Prasad Koirala. However, the political parties, in the 1950s, were not very effective, and King Mahendra, crowned in 1955, seized complete control of the government in 1960. He declared a new constitution in 1962 that banned political parties and allowed monarchy through a nonparty system of panchayats (village councils). In the 1970s, after Mahendra's death, his son, Birendra Bir Bikram, became the king who initially continued with repression of the democratic movement. However, he finally gave way, which led to the 1980 referendum and then the new constitution with the adoption of the multiparty system in 1990. In 1991, Girija Prasad Koirala became the first elected Prime Minister with the titular chief of state being the King. The 1990s witnessed problems in the parliamentary democratization of the nation: political instability, several governmental topples and changes, governmental corruption allegations, public demonstrations, coalition formations, and frequent elections. Since March 2000, Girija Prasad Koirala of NCP has once again become the Prime Minister.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Sanskrit was the main field of teaching and learning. Pradhan Pathshala (Sanskrit primary schools) were established in Dang, Dingla, Janakpur, and Kathmandu. Graduates from these schools used to travel to universities at Darbhanga and Kashi in India to complete further studies in Uttar Madhyama (Intermediate), Shastri (Bachelor), and Acharaya (Master) levels.

Under the Rana-British rule, between 1846 and 1951, access to education was confined to the higher castes and wealthier economic stratum of the population; the Ranas were opposed to giving education to the masses. They chose to educate their own children through English tutors. In 1854, Rana Jung Bahadur opened the Durbar School in Kathmandu to serve the needs of the Rana family and other Nepalese elite. This preference established the supremacy of the English education over the traditional Sanskrit-based education, a trend that has since continued. The School Leaving Certificate (SLC or grade 10) examination for Durbar School used to be conducted by the University of Calcutta, India until 1934 when the Nepal SLC examination board was founded. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was 5 percent. Literacy among males was 10 percent, while female literacy was 1 percent. Only 1 child out of 100 children attended school.

Since the democratization of Nepal, the country is committed to universal education and is slowly moving toward achieving that goal. In 1990, Nepal launched a massive literacy campaign targeting 8 million people between the ages of 6 and 45 years of age. Since then education in grades 1-10 is also being offered "tuition free" throughout the country.

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