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School for a Dollar

For many in Nepal, a good education remains an unattainable luxury. And despite a rapid expansion of education facilities in recent decades, adult literacy is still less than 50 per cent.

Nepal has over seven million students enrolled in primary and secondary school education, but only one in four children reach the 10th grade. Despite spending 17 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) on education, government school facilities in Nepal are poor and dropout numbers are high, especially among girls.

One third of the country’s population live below the poverty line and private schools are unaffordable for most, while public schools make do with insufficient facilities, insufficient teacher training and broken down buildings.

Widespread corruption and politicisation of the education sector is blamed. Teacher appointments are made by political parties, funds are mismanaged by district education officers and numerous political groups hold education to ransom by staging strikes which regularly force the closure of schools across the country.

But one man is leading a mission to wipe out illiteracy in Nepal with low cost private education. Uttam Sanjel gave up aspirations to be a Bollywood actor in order to devote his life to children’s education.

In 2001, he started the Samata Shiksha Niketan Schools in Kathmandu. The name means ‘education for all’.

Made from bamboo collected from the local community, the schools are basic but cost just 100 Nepali Rupees ($1.35) per student each month.

Today, Sanjel’s schools make up Nepal’s largest chain of non-public educational institutions, with over 25,000 students from nursery to year 12 in 19 schools.

He aims to open at least one Samata School in each of the country’s 75 districts, supported by donations from local businessmen, expats, diplomats and foreign philanthropic organisations. In 2010, all Samata students who sat the School Leaving Certificate exam passed with over 80 per cent marks.

But the Samata School is not without controversy. There are calls for greater transparency over its donors and Sanjel often struggles to pay his teachers, leading to a walk-out at one school in eastern Nepal. Still, Sanjel hopes to close the gap between wealthy and marginalised groups and forge a path to equality through cheap quality educatio

Duration: 25:06
Country: Nepal
Language: EN
Resolution max: 720p
Video Source: YouTube
Provided by: Al Jazeera English
Published on: 2012-10-21
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