Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - For the first time is Nepal's history, female graduates will outnumber male graduates this year, this according to data released by the Exam Controller's Office (OCE). Christian schools are the main contributing factor.
Created 80 years ago, the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) is issued by an examination board. Nepal's schools go up to Grade 10.
In a statement, the OCE noted that this year 213,710 girls (50.14 per cent) will take their final exams compared to 212,504 boys. The number of students taking the exam rose by 4.8 percent over last year.
Nepal's Education Ministry also reports that school enrolment for girls has risen faster than that for boys, in both primary and secondary school.
For experts, this is a clear indication that Nepal has made strides towards gender equality in education. According Bishnu Karki, an expert in the field, the merit is due to the recent work of Jesuit-run Catholic schools and missionary groups.
In a context characterised by limited government action, these schools have actively promoted the development of female education.
Karki told AsiaNews that "Christians, both Catholics and non-Catholics, who run mixed schools, encouraged female participation."
"Once Christians started to encourage their enrolment, many parents understood the value of education for their daughters," he said.
"In traditional Hindu societies like Nepal's, girls tend to be denied the opportunity to learn how to read and write. Families prefer early marriage, sometimes even before the girls are fully developed physically."
Education Minister Chitralekha Yadav agrees. The latter has praised Christians for their contribution to the country's rising literacy rate, one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals established in 2000.
"Perhaps Catholics were the first to introduce co-education for both boys and girls in the country. Before that, schools were not meant for girls," Ms Yadav said.
"Now the government is also undertaking various initiatives to promote women's education," the minister said, including rewarding the best students with computers, hiring more female teachers and installing separate washrooms in schools.
The contribution by Catholics to the nation's education is crucial for the country. For Sister Jessy, who heads the St Mary School in Lalitpur (south of the capital), "Women's education is the basis of our society," and "We have always paid great attention to education as the basis of a society's development."
In Nepal, Jesuit-run Catholic schools, which include university-level colleges, are renowned for their quality of teaching. Christians support about a hundred schools, 20 of which are run by Catholics.