Back to school in Nepal

Basketball court inside the premises of Tripadma School in Pulchok is empty despite reopening of the school. Photos: SONIA AWALE

On Monday, it is first day back to school for ninth and tenth graders Tripadma School in Patan. But the basketball court is empty. There are no students loitering in the school grounds like they used to.

The school is running classes in shifts, there is no lunch break and students bring snacks and water from home. 

Principal Kadam Baba Pradhan is on an inspection, and tells a visitor: “We have to take every possible safety measure to ensure that the pandemic stays out of school. Once it’s inside it will be a breeding ground, it’s a risk.”

Indeed, Grade 9 and 10 students taking English and Nepali lessons are spread out in two different buildings, some classrooms more spacious than others, and there are only two pupils to a bench. Masks have now been added to the school uniform.

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(Clockwise) Grade 9 and 10 students in attend their classes in Tripada School where masks have now been added to the uniform. Some students have also donned face visors.Principal Kadam Baba Pradhan has been conducting classes in shifts to avoid large crowds inside the premises.

Nearby at Patan High School students and teachers alike cannot wait for school to restart in their fancy new seismic resistant five-storey school built with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The Rs320 million building can withstand magnitude 8 earthquake because it is built on a concrete raft foundation, has solar and rainwater backup, and well-equipped library and labs.

“The new building and facilities are a big draw for new students, and because our fees are much lower, we expects more parents facing financial crisis due to the pandemic sending their children here,” says principal Iswor Man Bajracharya. “We have had many new students transferring from private schools.”

JICA supported new seismic resistant building of Patan School stands out amidst the town's landscape. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

Schools across the country have been closed for most of 2020, some schools started remote learning and online classes. The Ministry of Education has been issuing contradictory orders about online classes, fearing it might widen the digital divide between private schools and government ones where 80% of Nepal’s students are enrolled.

The federal Ministry has now delegated decision on reopening of schools to local governments regarding reopening of schools. Kathmandu and Bhaktapur are planning to reopen school from this month.

Local governments are also working with the Health ministry and UNICEF to launch the Learning Continuity Campaign this week. The campaign engages parents, teachers and local government, providing guidance on safe reopening of schools and alternative modes of instruction like home-schooling, low-tech solutions like telephone/SMS for learning, radio programs on parenting and specific focus on marginalised children to prevent dropout, have been highlighted.

At Padmodaya School in Putali Sadak, principal Narayan Prasad Gautam and his team are busy making final preparations to reopen school despite shortage of classrooms to house over 1,100 students from Grade 1-9. 

“We survived the earthquakes and their aftermath with temporary learning centres but Covid-19 is a whole new challenge,” says Gautam. “We can control and monitor students only for so long. As soon as they are out of our gates, it is up to each of them to follow safety precautions, and for parents to enforce them.” 

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