United Academy

History of Education in Nepal: Ancient to Modern

Abhishek Bhandari

January 13, 2021
Last updated October 12, 2022
KMC Lalitpur

The educational history of Nepal finds its roots in the ancient days, where the development of education appears to have been based on homeschooling and Gurukuls. Before the modern education system was introduced, there was a system of imparting Sanskrit and Buddhist education based on religion. These systems of education flourished for centuries before the advent of the English system which was imported from India merely seventy years ago. For the Hindus, the right to education was subjected to the Brahmans and Chhetris only. The Brahmans studied the religious texts like Vedas, Upanishads, and other texts of the science of rituals while the Chhetris learned about administration and the art of warfare. Most of the schools in Nepal reflected this Aryan-Sanskrit influence for a long period. Similarly, the Buddhist educational influence grew in the country with the establishment of formal certified educational institutions around the country along with nonformal education imparted within the walls of “Gompas” and monasteries. Though the Buddhist education system had developed mostly in Nepal, the Aryan invasions along with the introduction of the Sanskrit system into Nepal gradually pushed the Buddhist system northward.

Development of Education System in Modern Nepal

The modern history of Nepal is often traced to the eighteenth century when the Shahs of Gurkha assumed power and established the capital in Kathmandu. However, in the nineteenth century, The Ranas, who were ministers to the Kings, assumed real power leaving the Shahs as being the pseudo rulers. It was under the Rana regime (1846-1951), a modern English education system was introduced. But the access to this education was confined to the higher castes and wealthier section of the population. The Ranas were against imparting education to the mass. In 1854, Jung Bahadur Rana opened Durbar School, originally accessible for the Ranas and the elites. It was later opened to the public in 1901 by Dev Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. The School Leaving Certificate examination for Durbar School used to be conducted by the University of Calcutta, India up until the Nepal SLC Board was founded in 1934.

Development of Education System in Nepal from 1950 to 1990

Education became formally available to the general public after the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1951, although well-to-do families had been educating their children (mainly boys) in India before that. The small numbers being educated at that time can be seen in the fact that the 1950s adult literacy rate (age above15 +) of the country was just 5 percent with about 10,000 students in just 300 schools and two colleges. However, after the establishment of democracy and the advent of greater social equality in the nation, in 1954 the Government of Nepal appointed Dr. Hugh B. Wood (a US Fulbright scholar in India) as an advisor to the Nepal National Educational Planning Commission (NNEPC). The report of this commission had a profound influence on Nepalese education and became the foundation of language education policy in Nepal. After the introduction of a comprehensive National Education Sector Education Plan (NESP) in 1971, the education sector began to enlarge. The NESP attempted to create a single unified system of public education and to empower district education offices to run schools

The system of education prevailing in Nepal today is patterned to some extent to that India which in turn was the legacy of The British Rule. Within the two levels of primary and secondary education, there are two types of schools and colleges: Community Schools (government schools) and Private Schools. Also, there are a few missionary foundation schools (such as St. Xavier’s and St. Mary’s), gumbas (schools for selected Buddhist children), madrasas (schools for Muslim children), and Gurukulas (Sanskrit schools). At the tertiary level, Tribhuvan University was established in 1959 as the first university in Nepal, though there are now fourteen in the country.

Despite the efforts, formal education was still constrained by the economy as well as culture. Children had to work in the fields and at home. Educating the female population was viewed as unnecessary. Formal education was regarded as a luxury rather than a primary right. Besides, because of the topography of Nepal, regional variations highly obstructed the effectiveness of uniform distribution of text materials as well as teacher training. It was in 1975 when the primary school (then from Class 1-5) was made free and the government took on the responsibility of providing school facilities, teachers, and educational materials.

Administration

Education in Nepal is organized under the Ministry of Education which is responsible for managing all the educational activities in Nepal. The ministry consists of a central national office and other offices at the regional and district levels. The central office mainly focuses on policymaking, planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluation. Based on the control of The Ministry, the schools in Nepal can be categorized into (a) Government Schools/Community Schools – schools supported and administered entirely by the Government; and (b) Private Schools/Independent Schools – schools operating independently, both financially and administratively. However, there are also few other types of schools. A few missionary foundation schools (such as St. Xavier’s and St. Mary’s), gumbas (schools for selected Buddhist children), madrasas (schools for Muslim children), and Gurukulas (Sanskrit schools) that do not necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of The ministry of education.

Structure Today

Education in Nepal, based on structure, can be divided into Primary Level Education, Secondary Level Education, and University Level Education. Primary education, today also called basic education, arrays from grade one to eight while Secondary education arrays from grade nine to twelve. Primary education culminates when the student clears the Basic level Examination (BLE) at the end of 8th grade. Secondary Education Exam (SEE) previously known as the School Leaving Certificate (SLC), is conducted on a national level at the end of the 10th grade, while the completion of the 12th-grade examination leads to School Leavers Certificate. All the exams are supervised by the National Examination Board (NEB). University education consists of Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, MPhil, and Ph.D.

University Education and major challenges in the sector

There are currently 10 universities in Nepal: Tribhuvan University, Far-Western University, Kathmandu University, Lumbini Bouddha University, Mid Western University, Nepal Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal Sanskrit University, Pokhara University, Purbanchal University, Rajarshi Janak University. The universities, although trying to catch up with the needs of the 21st-century globalized world, fall short in meeting the needs of students and the job market alike. 

University education in Nepal is faced with many social, political as well as economic limitations. The existing socio-political and economic conditionalities lead to many shortcomings. The institution owing to these very shortcomings affects the progress aimed at modernizing the country's education system. The inadequacy of the education system evident from the foundation level deeply affects any effort made to improve university-level education. However, the shortcomings cannot be entirely blamed on the foundation level. There are policy loopholes, economic uncertainties, inept resources, and a lack of far-sighted policies that share the blame. Besides the complex bureaucratic nature of the Nepali education system and politicization of the same, especially at the university level, the major challenge facing university education is the centralization of educational resources in the major cities especially the capital. The higher education system and in fact the entire education system of the country is largely affected by the political instability that plagues the overall social, political, and economic development of the nation. The disorderly regime change hinders scientific policymaking and implementation process whereas, the country’s economic investment in education which is comparatively insufficient often creates a favorable condition for brain drain among the highly qualified human resource of the country.

The country’s pace of development as a whole also largely affects the output of universities and higher educational institutions. Unable to keep up with the needs and demands of the students as well as the market in the globalized world, where most of the world is far ahead in catering to as well as creating modern-day educational needs of the students, the universities in our country struggle to keep the interest in higher education afloat. As a byproduct of the incompetent education system, job markets fail to accommodate the burgeoning population of youth entering the job market every year on the one hand and lack the resources to compete with the international job market which is now open for qualified citizens of the world.

International Student Mobility and  Foreign degrees, a major priority

The mobility of International Students is predominantly outbound, meaning that the ratio of international students enrolling in Nepal is almost insignificant to that of Nepalese students enrolling abroad. In the age of globalization, when services and goods around the world are easily available, it is both a boon and a curse that students are now exposed to more educational opportunities from around the world than ever before. In such a day and age, it is quite natural that educational institutions around the world are largely in competition with one another, which does ensure better quality in education. However, on the other hand, countries like Nepal that cannot cope up with the rising challenges are faced with a decline in qualified human resources that are mostly outbound.

This is because of the lack of top universities, scholarships, and post-graduate work opportunities in Nepal. Many students are leaving the country due to the limited higher education options in Nepal, and high unemployment among youths. Demographically, Nepal is experiencing a phase where the youth population is bulging every day. This growth in the youth population will increase the demand for higher education as well as employment and it is a demand that Nepal’s educational and employment system is unlikely to sustain.

Similarly, many students not only opt for western universities but a fair majority of them are seen to be attracted towards university degrees available in our neighboring countries as well as many south and east Asian nations as well. The gap in quality as reflected in the rankings is such that it should as no surprise that India, China (mostly for MBBS), and much other south and east Asian universities besides the US, UK, Australia, Western Europe, and Scandinavian countries have been popular choices for Nepali students and Nepali university often fall under the least of their priorities. It is this very reality that has induced the upsurge of educational institutions that offer foreign degrees in the comfort of one’s home country. After the 2000s many such institutions with foreign university affiliations have been registered in the country and these institutions promise better quality education at a comparatively lower cost. According to data released by the Ministry of education, 95 institutions currently operate in Nepal that has international educational affiliations out of which 54 provide international Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees. Most institutions are affiliated with the universities or are in partnership with the universities in the US, UK, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Austria, and Switzerland.

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