Last December, I wanted to find out why so many children near my university in rural Nepal dropped out of school . I went to more than 30 homes. Parents gave several reasons, but the main one was that they believed work was more beneficial than education. You can read some of their comments in my blog post.
I know from my own experience that education is life-changing. I’m from a poor neighborhood. Many of my friends who dropped out ended up with low-paying jobs. Others have gone to jail. I found that the only way to improve the dropout situation at a facility like Rampur School in Chitwan, or any similar community, is to bring everyone together in one room, and have an open conversation about the issues.
In collaboration with Rampur school, a TEDx event was organized to stimulate dialogue on education. It was the first such event in the community. Around 44 people attended, including community leaders, teachers, parents, and students.
Most parents didn’t know what dropout meant, and what they could do to help. They asked many questions. Most said they were actually eager to send their children to school, but they wanted their children to gain practical skills that could be applied in daily life, and not simply memorize words from books.
Parents also wanted to see food programs in school. They thought that if the school offered food at least once a day, it would not only attract their children to school, but also ease the pressure on parents to feed their children at home.
One of the students, a girl, 13, described the challenges of girls attending school in rural areas. She said early marriage and biological changes at puberty were the two main reasons girls dropped out of school. In rural communities like Rampur, there is the belief that girls can’t be touched by anybody when they have their period. They are perceived as dirty. If schools don’t properly address this situation, then girls are compelled to leave school.
The event was eye-opening, and had a tangible result. As a first step in solving some of the problems, teachers agreed to create a monitoring system to track the dropout rate in Rampur, and find ways to prevent it.
For me, the meeting was a milestone in my own education. I will never forget the challenges I faced when I first went door-to-door asking questions. The indigenous community in Chitwan thought I wanted money. In the beginning, it was very hard to make them understand what I was trying to do with this event.
I drew on the lessons I gained from a 2010 EVOKE workshop—an online game and course to help young people come up with creative solutions to solve social problems. The course helped me discover ways to improve not only myself, but also my community.
Young people should be involved in all efforts taken to raise awareness about the drop-out rate issue. This is not only an example for the Rampur community, but also for the world. Awareness raising programs must continue. This will help children get an education, and a better future.
And finally, the government, as the main authority, also needs to play a key part in this debate.