Wage Bill Constraints: Hardship of Teachers in Nepal
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In 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) directed the governments of 15 countries, including Nepal, to reduce their public expenditure. This has greatly impacted teachers after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The directive  focused on cutting public wage bills and using the funds saved to tackle the effects of the pandemic. However, with such steps, the undeveloped education sector has remained stagnant, both in terms of teachers’ livelihoods and students’ overall development. Moreover, with such basic things being neglected, the education sector will remain stagnant in the future as well.
Previously, the IMF provided financial support to developing countries to help them to overcome the pandemic which was taking a toll on the development sector. Later on, however, IMF imposed directives that these funds be used as a reserve rather than to provide monetary benefits to front-line workers, including doctors, nurses, and teachers. According to a report published in 2020, it is estimated that nearly three million jobs were lost in the 15 countries where the directives were imposed.
In the education sector, where the majority of the funds were cut from teachers’ salaries and measures to improve teaching standards, the quality of education has significantly decreased. This has resulted in students being taught by unprofessional teachers and teachers themselves struggling to meet day-to-day needs. This is the case in Nepal and other countries wherein the directives were imposed. Teachers are the key to developing highly skilled manpower and serve as a backbone for the country and the economy. However, when the education sector and profession is treated poorly, the future of pupils and the country is jeopardised.
Undermining quality education
Nepal is one of the countries where the directives were imposed by the government. Despite the country being ranked as one of the poorest in the world, the education sector was improving, compared to previous decades. Student enrolments had increased and schools were established in every part of the nation. Now, however, the IMF’s directive has acted as a barrier to achieving quality education in the country. This has led to compromised learning materials, demotivated teachers, a lack of proper infrastructure, and job losses as the needed funds are not allocated to the sector by the government. With such results, the education sector has lost a decade. In of the interviews conducted, it was clear that the learning’s materials did not meet the requirements of the students. Also, in case of teachers, they had to opt another profession to make a livelihood as the income from teaching did not suffice day to day needs.
Today, students’ conditions are still inadequate, as the majority of children living in rural regions do not obtain a quality education. This is due to a shortage of educational resources, insufficient numbers of instructors, and poor physical infrastructure. For example, most public schools lack contemporary education resources such as well-equipped computer laboratories, and pupils are hardly aware of the usage and implications of computers. In addition, teachers’ living conditions are impacted as their salaries are inadequate and infrequent. Furthermore, teachers find it difficult to buy daily necessities as the country’s inflation rates are expected to grow in 2022 and 2023. Across the country, teachers have left the profession in pursuit of better prospects. Some start their own company or move to private schools for better pay, notwithstanding the issues that private-school teachers have faced. Furthermore, many public-school teachers have emigrated in pursuit of better employment possibilities, as Nepal does not provide a high standard of living for public-school teachers. During the pandemic, many contract, relief, and government-hired private teachers were laid off because schools were unable to support them.
In terms of infrastructure, timely building and repair work in schools has been suspended, posing a threat to children’s ability to learn in a secure setting.
Union branch leader Surendra Ghimire said: “ We are facing issues such as fewer classrooms and playgrounds, and a shortage of ICT tools. We are conducting online classes these days, but our teachers are not prepared to handle virtual education. Schools need to have computer labs and multimedia devices. We do not have enough subject teachers. Our student-teacher ratio is as high as 65:1. We need more funding from the government”.
The role of education unions
In order to address these issues, teachers’ unions are collaborating with the government to minimise the negative consequences. Teacher unions are active in many decision-making processes. They have tried to persuade the government and other relevant authorities to increase the annual contribution to the public education sector and to boost the annual education budget to at least 25 per cent of the total budget. A union leader at national level, Rajendra Raj Paudel, highlighted that “ No safety measure was provided by the government with regard to teachers and students, for the operation of schools and online classes. Online classes were introduced after six months of the lockdown, which made the conditions worse. Online classes, television, radio, and contact sessions were introduced but their full potential was not reached.”
Another issue was raised by Hom Kumar Thapa, president of a national union: “ Quite a number of teachers lost their jobs in private schools because they did not have the tools or skills to conduct online classes.”
As a result of the IMF’s mandate to cut public spending, the education sector’s position has deteriorated. Other industries have also been impacted, although the effect of the cuts has been far higher in education than in other sectors. Furthermore, given that education is the backbone of every country, a lack of funding will result in poorer working conditions for teachers and ultimately undermine the right to quality and equitable education for all pupils. This will have a long-term impact on Nepal’s overall situation, leading to the creation of semi-skilled personnel only, and the country will have a difficult time getting back on track since it will be too late.
International Monetary Fund. (2020). 2020 ARTICLE IV CONSULTATION. Washington: International Monetary Fund.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.