Language Education Policy Studies
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Nepal Language Education Policy 

It is difficult to say with certainty just how much linguistic diversity there is in Nepal, due to the discrepancy between sources. The 2001 census reports 92 distinct languages in Nepal, whereas the Indigenous Linguistic Society of Nepal lists 143 as of 2006 (Hough et al., 2009, p. 160). Regardless of the actual number, sources agree that more than 80% of Nepalese citizens speak a language from the Indo-European origin, which includes the 48% of citizens who speak Nepali (Yadiv, 2007, p. 3-5), the official language of the country. However, the largest number of languages spoken in Nepal are from the Tibeto-Burman family, where many indigenous languages originate (Rai et al., 2011, p. 9).


After over a century of marginalization due to monarchy rule, in 1990, the indigenous populations of Nepal rallied for the protection of their languages and cultures. The Constitution of 1990 declared Nepali as the official language and that any language spoken in Nepal was considered a national language. In 1991, the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) was formed. NEFIN believes that indigenous people have the right to use their language in schools and learn through materials suited for their linguistic and cultural identities and needs (Hough et al., 2009, p. 161). In order to honor these rights, a multilingual education (MLE) model is necessary. These milestones in the early nineties, along with the 2007 Interim Constitution  of Nepal that declared the country as a “multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, and multicultural nation” (Rai et al., 2011, p. 11), paved the way for the beginnings of mother-tongue (MT) MLE programming in Nepalese schools.


In 2007, the Nepalese Department of Education (DOE) partnered with the Government of Finland to implement a MT-MLE program in grades 1-3 in seven schools, with the goal of eventual implementation in over 300 Nepalese schools. In 2011, UNESCO conducted a study on the impacts of the program for future directions that the Nepalese DOE must take in order to achieve this goal. For example, practice must match policy, due to the findings that the MT was not always being used as the method of instruction, as some schools used Nepali or a mix of MT and Nepali. Additionally, parent education must be improved to ensure them that MT instruction in early primary grades will help children acquire English or Nepali later, as some parents were adamant about wanting their children to learn these majority languages rather than MT. Lastly, more support from the state is needed for teachers to successfully practice MT MLE , since the termination of the Finnish partnership caused a decline in training, support, and resources. But, the positive impacts that the program demonstrated in creating a positive environment and increasing student motivation are hopeful for the future of MT MLE (Mother Tongue Multilingual Education) programming in Nepal (Rai et al., 2011, p. 6-7).


“Education in Nepal” (3:48)


“Origin of Nepal: Formation of Nepal: One of the Oldest Countries” (5:18)


“‘Language in Education’ Policy in Nepal: Notes from the Emerald Valley”


“Towards Multilingual Education in Nepal”


“Situation of Mother Tongues in Nepal”


“Why Mother-Tongue-Based Multilingual Education is Necessary in Nepal”


Hough, D.A., Magar, R.B.T., & Yonjan-Tamang, A. (2009). Privileging indigenous knowledges: empowering multilingual education in Nepal. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice Through Multilingual Education (pp.159-176). Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.


Rai, V. S., Rai, M., Phyak, P., & Rai, N. (2011). Multilingual education in Nepal: hearsay and reality? A report (Rep.). UNESCO, UNESCO Office Kathmandu. Retrieved


Yadava, Y. (August 2007). Linguistic diversity in Nepal: Perspectives on language policy. A paper presented at an international seminar on Constitutionalism and Diversity in Nepal Organized by Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University, Nepal.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Ahonen, K. (2018). Language Education Policy in Nepal. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link) 

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