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A Snapshot of Nepal’s Female Literacy Rate

Adult literacy rates in Nepal have increased and continue to increase, though similar countries have seen stagnation. The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report highlights under Sustainable Development Goal 4.6.2 that Nepal’s has seen growth in the adult literacy rate of women aged 20-34. UNESCO’s Education Progress Tool assesses this positive outcome as a result of literate young girls becoming adults. This blog will include other possible factors for Nepal’s efforts and successes to meet the literacy needs of its citizens. 

UNESCO indicates that Nepal is the only country analyzed that has held sustained improvement over time. UNESCO attributes the success of Nepal to the simple explanation that young women, who have previously benefitted from increases in primary education access and promotion rates, are now growing up and positively effecting Nepal’s adult female literacy rates. I contend that if this argument were a full explanation, it would be seen in other countries as well who have had similar timelines of educational progress. Instead, I argue the figures provided are an indication of Nepal’s success in targeting women’s need for literacy by appealing to the social and emotional needs of their female population. Additionally, Nepal’s sustained literacy success is a reflection of the economic growth in the capital, Kathmandu and may be an indication that the rural populations continued educational struggles are not being addressed.

In 1994, female literacy rate in Nepal was only 25 percent in comparison to the male literacy rate of 55 percent. In an effort to mitigate these issues, His Majesty’s Government of Nepal and Save the Children US began implementing “Education for All” initiatives which, along with help from local non-governmental organizations, have worked to steadily decrease the illiterate population. In the UNESCO country data for Nepal an interesting data set indicates that literacy programs since 1994 have been successful for in targeting female participants specifically. This data shows the increase in literacy rate for females aged 15-24 years has increased from 14.97 per cent in 1981 to 90.88 per cent in 2018, with the most drastic increase coming between 1991 and 2001, from 32.67 per cent to 60.14 per cent in 2001 due to the new policies that were established in 1994. 

In Nepal, there has been an effort to increase integrated literacy programs where literacy is taught in several different contexts and so it can be accessed at different stages in one’s everyday routine. There are literacy education programs being provided to adult women by religious institutions, aid organizations and public institutions. These programs take a holistic approach to education by taking into account a woman’s education while also assessing the other areas of their lives such as health, children, income etc. In Nepal, a research group called The Goals and Purposes of the Girls’ and Women’s Education Initiative and the Girls’ and Women’s Education policy Research Activity (GWE-PRA) followed two of these groups, Basic Primary Education Project (BPEP) and the Health Education and Adult Literacy (HEAL) Program. The analysis found that woman who participated in these programs gained 13 percentage points over women who did not participate in the index of women’s social and economic development. (Burchfield et. al., 2002) By taking the woman’s full scope of life into consideration, literacy is able to be framed as a solution for the women participating in these programs. The success of these programs is attributed to their ability to meet a broad scope of needs for the female participants that went beyond their literacy studies. Nepal’s efforts to tackle the entire problem, instead of simply one part of the whole, had shown to be an indicator of why they have been able to sustain their growing literacy rates. 

The data point provided by UNESCO’s Education Progress Tool does not show the full picture of the continued effort to achieve high literacy rates in Nepal. The country still suffers from drastic economic inequalities between rural and urban populations that are shown in the education-based data as well. Nepal’s rural populations makes up 80 per cent of the total population and yet there are reports that students are not able to find or access education past the primary level in the poorest areas of the country. (Khatimada, 2015) The picture of Nepal’s female literacy rate process shows sustained success over time. These figures are slow to change over time and require continued work. If Nepal is able to continue working towards meeting the education as well as the social and emotional needs of its female population, it will continue to see sustained growth in its female literacy rates.  


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