Advancing Early Childhood Development in Nepal Through Education Diplomacy

Coordination and networking are common terms in the development sector around the globe. When it comes to a community development project, these two concepts are key for project development and implementation. However, they are not always easy to put into practice. Working for various non-governmental organizations in the field of child development and education, I have initiated and negotiated coordination with local and government authorities, along with other stakeholders, from the very beginning of my work. 

To set up workshops, planning meetings are held and authorities suggest activities to be included in the programs. After getting approval for the program, we invite the stakeholders, especially government authorities, and share all the program details/activities and the implementation plan (budget and the tentative dates). We form a joint monitoring team to gauge the ongoing program. Also, we invite authorities to facilitate in the training and the workshops. A district program advisory committee (DPAC) brings members of the government authorities (line ministries) and representatives from I/NGOs together to work on the development of the district. Similarly, on the national level, we share the programs with the relevant department and ministry. We also invite media persons and political representatives to the sharing workshops. This helps to get positive response from the authorities. However, in each and every case, the work follows a certain ritual. Almost all the organizations follow the same process and the authorities’ presence is like a witness for the program.

The early childhood program is always given less priority during policy formation. Bringing authorities to the program and helping them understand the importance of the early age is always a challenge in our context. It requires a lot of effort, time, and advocacy skill to gain support for children’s programs. I was aware of this as a result of my experiences in NGO work. Therefore, when I was a faculty member in Kathmandu University, I used my academic strength to boost my advocacy work. People who did not listen to me when I was with an NGO slowly started to listen to my research-based facts and figures.

I have started networking from the grass roots level (community) to the national level (central). I have conducted orientations for local political party representatives involved in local planning process. I started working for the government, particularly for the Ministry of Education. I brought issues from the local level and shared the views of local authorities at the department and ministry levels.

The Ministry of Education has been working on legislation and policy reformation. I was involved as an early childhood education expert on the team. UNICEF invited me to write a five-year (2016-2020) strategy (road map) for early childhood. I had prior experience developing a five-year strategy framework for ensuring child rights and a five-year early childhood development strategy plan for the districts. I have prepared this road map based on my experiences with the districts, as I am familiar with the strengths and constraints of the programs. The detailed road map for the early childhood program I submitted to the government as an independent expert has been endorsed by the government. The education legislation (8th amendment) was recently amended. Now, the guidelines and implementation strategies are being revised to support effective implementation of the policy.

Advocacy and negotiation need continuous effort. They are not achieved in a short time. Intervention at both the grass roots (community) level and the national (central) level should be carried out simultaneously for the best results. Creating awareness and supporting community members and local political party representatives as they internalized the need at a local level creates demand. At the same time, educating and supporting policymakers regarding the issue and creating pressure helped them to work toward fulfilling the need. 

Meenakshi Dahal is a faculty member in the School of Education at Kathmandu University in Nepal