Modern education in Nepal began with the establishment of the first school in 1853. However, this school was only for the members of the ruling families and their courtiers. Schooling for the general people began only after 1951 when a popular movement ended the autocratic Rana family regime and initiated a democratic system. In the past fifty years, there has been a dramatic expansion of educational facilities in the country. As a result, adult literacy (15+) of the country was reported to be 48.2% (female: 34.6%, male: 62.2%) in the Population Census, 2001, up from about 5% in 1952/54. Beginning from about 300 schools and two colleges with about ten thousand students in 1951, there now are 26 thousand schools (including higher secondary), 415 colleges, five universities and two academies of higher studies. Altogether 5.5 million students are enrolled in those schools and colleges who are served by more than 150 thousand teachers.
Despite such examples of success, there are problems and challenges. Educational management, quality, relevance, access are some of the critical issues of education in Nepal. Societal disparities based on gender, ethnicity, location, economic class, etc. are yet to be eliminated. Resource crunch has always been a problem in education. These problems have made the goal of education for all a challenge for the country.
The Ministry of Education and Sports is the apex body responsible for initiating and managing educational activities in the country. The Minister of Education, assisted by the State/Assistant Minister, provides political leadership to the Ministry. The Ministry, as a part of the government bureaucracy, is headed by the Secretary of Education and consists of the central office, various functional offices and offices located at the regional and district levels. The Central Office or the Ministry is mainly responsible for policy development, planning and monitoring and evaluation regarding different aspects of education.
With a purpose of bringing education administration nearer to the people, the Ministry has established five Regional Directorates and 75 District Education Offices in five development regions and 75 districts respectively. These decentralized offices are responsible for overseeing nonformal and school level educational activities in their respective areas. Regional Directorates are mainly responsible for coordinating and monitoring and evaluation of education activities and the District Education Offices are the main implementing agencies. NCED is an Apex body for teacher training in Nepal. There are 34 Educational Training Centers under NCED to support the teachers in pedagogical areas. ETC Sunsari, ETC Dhulikhel and ETC Tanahun/ Educational Training Center Damauli, are the leading training center under NCED. NCED was established in B. S. 2050 but it could not take speed much until Arjun Bahadur Bhandari was appointed as an Executive Director. Now it is running in full fledged and implementing "Teacher Education Project" to train the pre-service and in-service teahcers throughout the country.
Education in Nepal is structured as school education and higher education. School education includes primary level of grades 1-5, lower secondary and secondary levels of grades 6-8 and 9-10 respectively. Pre-primary level of education is also available in certain areas. Six years of age is the prescribed age for admission into grade one. A national level School Leaving Certificate(SLC) Examination is conducted at the end of grade ten. Grades 11 and 12 are considered as higher secondary level. Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) supervises higher secondary schools which are mostly under private management. Previously these grades were under the university system and were run as proficiency certificate level. Though some universities still offer these programs, the policy now is to integrate these grades into the school system.
Higher education consists of bachelor, masters and PhD levels. Depending upon the stream and subject, bachelors level may be of three to five years' duration. The duration of masters level is generally of two years. Some universities also offer programs like M Phil and post-graduate diploma.
Legally, there are two types of school in the country: community and institutional. Community schools receive regular government grant whereas institutional schools are funded by school's own or other non-governmental sources. Institutional schools are organized either as a non-profit trust or as a company. However, in practical terms, schools are mainly of two types: public (community) and private (institutional). A third type of school is the schools run by the local people enthusiastic towards having a school in their localities. They do not receive regular government grants and most of them do not have any other sustainable financial source. Supported and managed by the local people, they can be thus identified as the real community schools.
Except one, all universities/academies are publicly managed and are supported by public source fund. However, public universities also provide affiliation to private colleges. Two academies of higher education are single college institutes whereas other universities have constituent and affiliated colleges across the country.