Stuck in Grade 5
Binita Dahal in BBC Nepali,
It takes the whole day to reach Syamrang from the highway in Chitwan: four hours by jeep and five hours walk across rugged mountains. Approaching the village, there are people and children in ragged clothes. The elderly look listless, and there are young children carrying baby siblings.
These Chepang villages do not have roads, electricity, education or health. On the next ridge is the village of Kanda, where eight villagers died eating poisonous mushrooms ten years ago. Houses destroyed by the earthquake have been roughly patched up with metal sheets.
Syamrang’s only school has two small classrooms crammed with students – one room has children from Grade 1-3, and other has students from Grades 4 and 5. The damaged classrooms are being repaired, but it may take years.
Most students drop out after Grade 5 because higher classes are four hours walk away across jungled mountains. Some keep repeating Grade 5 because there is nowhere else to study.
Dilmaya Chepang repeated Grade 5 for three years, reading the same textbooks over and over so she would not forget how to read, and got married soon after. Today, at age 35, she already has three children who go to the school she went to.
“Grade 6 was too far away, it is a difficult walk up and down mountains and through forests, so I just kept going to the same class and left school,” says Dilmaya, who is still so passionate about education that she teaches younger children in the light of a feeble solar lamp.
After a day of working in the fields and collecting fodder in the forest, young women gather at the school to be taught how to read and write by Dilmaya. “I myself can barely recognise the Nepali alphabets, but this gives me a chance to keep studying myself,” says Dilmaya.
She says the village and the school have not changed since she was a child. Dilmaya’s eldest daughter Ujeli is repeating Grade 5 just like her mother. There are women who went to the same school who have become grandmothers at 39.
Almost all villages in this area bordering Chitwan and Dhading have the same problem that stems from remoteness and neglect.
Nothing has changed here in 50 years, the school is older but its quality has not improved,” says Jhyapu Bahadur Chepang of Syamrang’s school management committee. Child marriage has not gone down, even though there are more girls than boys enrolled.
Twenty-one students are enrolled in Dungbang Primary School here, of which 16 are repeating Grade 5. Atibal Praja is the principle of the very school he himself attended. He worked hard, completed his SLC and now is an exception as the only villager with higher education.
“We have tried to talk to the government many times to send more teachers for higher classes, but no one listens,” he says.
Bimala Gurung has been a teacher at the school for the past 12 years, and says she hasn’t seen much change in living standard in the village in that time. “When I first came, the village was dirty, there was illiteracy, no health post, there was child marriage,” she says, “the village is still dirty, there is still illiteracy, no health post, and child marriage.”
The only big change is that the young men now leave the village to work abroad. With the money they send home, some families now have mobile phones.
The main reason nothing has changed is because the school stops at Grade 5, and many girls get married off soon after, thinks Jhyapu Bahadur Chepang. “The problem is lack of awareness because of lack of education,” he says.