Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative, on the occasion of National Conference on COPE

13 Jun 2002

Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative, on the occasion of National Conference on COPE
Kathmandu, 13 June 2002

Honourable Minister of State for Local Development, Mr. Duryodhan Singh, Minister of State for Education and Sports, Mr. Narayan Prakash Saud, Chairpersons of District Development Committees, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address you on the occasion of this National Conference on Community Owned Primary Education.

Only last week we launched here in Kathmandu a report on the Millennium Development Goals and discussed strategies to realize the targets. Goal number two stipulates that by the year 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. Sadly the report states that Nepal is unlikely to achieve this Goal.

The average annual rate of growth in primary enrollment between 1990 and 1999 was only 1.3%. If this trend continues only about 89% of all children in the relevant age group will enjoy access to primary schooling in 2015.

In some ways this slow progress in access to primary education is surprising. The number of primary schools increased by a factor of 3 between 1971 and 1995 and the number of teachers nearly doubled between 1989 and 1995. The volume and share of public expenditure on education, as well as the relative share, within the education sector allocated to the primary level, increased considerably between the mid-1980s and 1997.

Measured in terms of gross enrollment far more boys than girls are currently enrolled in schools. In 1999, for every 100 boys enrolled in primary schools only 78 girls were enrolled. Access to primary education remains also unevenly distributed by region and district, caste, status and income level.

Building on UNDP’s extensive experience in the area of decentralization through our Participatory District Development Programme (PDDP) and Local Governance Programme (LGP), His Majesty‘s Government and UNDP decided jointly in 1999 to experiment with decentralizing primary education all the way down to the community level. The idea was simple and straightforward: to pilot in six districts the education related provisions of the Local Self Governance Act with a view to gaining experience and draw policy lessons for the rest of the country.

As we share with you today our experiences from three years of project operations I am happy to say that the results have been all together overwhelmingly positive. It confirms that the real transfer of responsibility and authority for the delivery of social services to local governments and communities can make a world of difference.

This is not the time to give you a comprehensive account of what has been achieved. Also, I do not want to steal the thunder of those who will speak after me. Allow me to just mention a few striking results which have already attracted the attention of policy makers in the different concerned national institutions.

Local communities have responded consistently positively to the challenge to contribute to the construction of local schools. In fact 54% of the cost of all COPE school buildings have been borne by the local communities. Overcoming inequality of learning opportunities was one of the key objectives of the COPE programme from the very beginning. In this context I am happy to report to you that 63% of the COPE students belong to disadvantaged groups and that 54% are girls. All teachers, without exception, are women, chosen from the local communities with the full involvement of school management committees. Holding SLC degrees and being trained in a modular fashion they have been able to produce impressive learning achievements.

Lack of motivation, so often quoted as a key reason for the failure of primary schools in Nepal, does not pose a problem for these teachers. Working under the watchful eyes of the parents and the local community they have succeeded in creating an enjoyable learning environment and impressed everybody by their dedication and discipline. School endowment funds created with sizeable contributions from local communities and Members of Parliament have ensured sustainability of the schools since the proceeds of the endowment funds finance the salaries of teachers.

Organizing local populations turned out to be a key element of the success. In this context the COPE Programme was able to benefit from social mobilization activities carried out under various UNDP supported projects including PDDP/LGP, REDP and MEDEP.

Social mobilization has become a household word in Nepal. I would, however, like to emphasize that not every activity labeled as social mobilization deserves this name. A clear focus on organization, discipline imposed by savings and loans, technical and managerial training have to be core elements of any successful social mobilization attempt.

Only last week the Ministry of Finance presented to the donor community an Immediate Action Plan which is to be implemented within the next few weeks and months. I was delighted to see that under the Action Plan one hundred public primary schools are to be handed over to school management committees and are to receive His Majesty’s Government’s regular block grants. Similarly the recruitment of teachers for these hundred primary schools is to be handed over to school management committees. Considering this decision our National Conference on the Community Owned Primary Education Programme could not be held at a better time. We are delighted to be able to present to a captive audience our policies and practical experiences distilled over the last three years.

In closing I would like to express appreciation to the Ministry of Local Development and the Ministry of Education who have cooperated in an exemplary fashion in the design and implementation of the COPE school programme. I would also like to single out the National Programme Director, Mr. Mahesh Raj Sharma and the National Programme Manager, Ms. Pramila Rajbhandari who have shown exemplary commitment in the implementation of the  programme.

My appreciation and gratitude go also to the Chairmen of the following DDCs who are with us today: Achham, Baitadi, Bajhang, Kapilavastu, Okhaldhunga and Rautahat. Without their leadership and support COPE could not have flourished.

I think it is fair to say that in many ways COPE can be considered as a model of the new administrative system the people of Nepal are longing for, a system characterized by genuine decentralization of responsibility and authority, transparency and accountability, dedicated delivery of services and results that impact on the lives of people in a real sense.

Thank you.