Learning during the pandemic in Nepal

(This article is based on a research project by Boyd Hayes, Nabila Farid, Riya Sirkhell, who are graduate students at the University of British Columbia, and Ujjwal Neupane, Research Assistant at UBC.)

It is 9AM on a Tuesday, and Bijay is running late for work. No time for breakfast: he will have to grab something from a vendor on the way. He has spent the past 10 minutes looking for his purse to pay the bus fare, and is in a hurry. As he grabs his facemask and opens the door, his 6-year-old son calls for him.

“Where do we go for school again? I forgot.”

He rushes back into the other room where his son sits with his uncle’s laptop. It is old and some of the keys have fallen off, but it will have to do for now, as long as the children are kept home from school. This pandemic has forced everyone to adapt.

Bijay digs through the drawer in the cabinet to find the piece of paper containing instructions for accessing the online courses for his son. He fumbles with the unfamiliar and clunky keyboard to type in the address, username and password.

“What module are you doing today,” Bijay asks his son. Yesterday he says they were working on English letters, but that doesn’t help him figure out which lesson is happening today.

Face-to-face classes online, Dinesh Paudel 

Finally, Bijay notices the dates listed next to the modules, and clicks on the one for Tuesday. The page opens, and he turns to run out. He is quite late now, and his employer will scold him and cut his pay, regardless of the circumstances. His wife, Reema also has to work to make ends meet. Their 16-year-old daughter, also enrolled in school, will need to cook while they are gone.

When they finally come back home in the evening, the lights in the house flicker and go off: the electricity is out. They go to check on their son, who is now playing with a toy on the floor. School will have to wait until the power comes back.

Parenting young students during the Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal presents struggles like this on a daily basis. How do you support your children to continue their education when there are so many factors working against you?

Parents of pupils interviewed for this research paints a picture of disconnect and disparity. After reopening physical classed in late February, The three districts of Kathmandu Valley and six others went into full or partial lockdown again in response to a deadly Covid-19 second wave

As has been reported before, online classes during the lockdown have pointed to broader gaps in education delivery and governance in Nepal. Students, parents, teachers and civil society are struggling to transition to a new normal.

Digital divide exposes class divide in Nepal schools, Nunuta Rai

“The government directives have been confusing and contradictory across levels, with almost no support to parents like us, who are struggling with challenges of work and continued learning of children from home,” said a father of two children in Lalitpur.

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested governments and institutions throughout the world. Nepal has also been no exception, as recent events have also compounded existing challenges, specifically a political crisis with the dissolution of Parliament, and recent wildfires which have affected air quality, prompting the government to shut schools for a week in late March 2021. 

As coronavirus cases dropped in March, the government relaxed restrictions and allowed schools to re-open. There was an opportunity for the government to implement a strong back-to-school plan with a focus on enhancing student learning through an integrated approach by including parents and caregivers in the teaching-learning process. 

The closure of schools again has meant there is little more time to plan for that. There are lessons to be learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic in order to produce sustainable, proactive measures for the future of Nepal’s education.

During focus group discussions, one mother of a 6-year-old student from the Sindhupalchok said: “In the remote areas, some students have not even attended online classes because of no access to electricity, shortage of money to purchase devices, no internet and inability of parents to support their education, because in the remote areas, the parents could not understand. This is the problem we are facing as parents.”

Online classes may widen digital divide, Madhu Sudan Dahal

Other parents said that limited access to reliable electricity, affordable internet, and internet-capable devices were major barriers in helping their children continue education remotely. 

Research indicates that parental involvement in their children’s education can result in higher grades and test scores, better enrollment rates, and improved social skills and behaviour. 

The adjustment to the increased use of technology without reliable infrastructure has proven to be challenging for many, especially parents who have inevitably struggled to contribute to their children's educational advancement. The pandemic has affirmed the importance of parents and caregivers in childhood learning and education. 

However, parents and caregivers face significant gaps in the knowledge and resources needed to help their children with school. Civil society groups and the government can work together to support parents and children with navigating technology-based learning. 

They can provide modules for parents to learn how to use suitable technologies for remote learning, much as previous generations of school development efforts often provided non-formal curriculum elements for parents who were not literate themselves. 

Such programs can equip parents and caregivers to embody a more participatory role in the teaching-learning process while enhancing learning outcomes for children.

Read also: ‘A decade of work lost in 4 months’, Sheryl Lee

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