On 24th of March 2020 the Government of Nepal imposed a nationwide lockdown, five months later, the education institutions of Nepal still remain closed. I can personally attest to the psychological anxiety and emotional stress of being a student in Coronavirus pandemic. However, an account of my experience would be an outlier to the experience of young and vulnerable students of Nepal who already are victims to the fragile and disappointing public education system . It is concerning to realize how COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted learning opportunities for them.
UNDP has estimated that 86% of students from low HDI nations are being held back from receiving education due to COVID-19. Although the Government and private schools are promoting distance education through : radio,television, internet and print media, students who are economically , geographically and ethnically marginalized hardly have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. Poor quality of education and unequal access to education is the defining characteristic in Nepali school system; COVID-19 Pandemic has further exacerbated that gap.
Although the Internet penetration rate of Nepal is 72%, many marginalized students who are either urban poor or living in rural ares of Nepal do not have access to digital technology, they cannot afford expensive 3G and WiFi , and hence are facing challenges in learning. There has always been systematic divide in gaining access to equal education opportunities; COVID-19 Pandemic is a wake-up call to improve quality of education in our Public School System for the present and future generations of students in Nepal. When the lockdown was announced, 300,000 people migrated from the capital city to their respective hometowns. It is estimated that only 49% of rural Nepal has access to electricity, and 72% of households have access to television. Furthermore, given the economic impact of COVID on remittance and employment it is hardly possible for marginalized households to afford to access the internet via wifi and expensive 3G networks.
Similarly, to personally understand how COVID-19 Pandemic was impacting learning of marginalized students of Nepal I had a chance to interview Rene Johnke for #Businesspostlockdown podcast series. Rene had been living in Nepal for the past 6 years and was working to improve learning of marginalised students from public schools via his non-profit ,social enterprise Changing Stories. Having worked as a field volunteer for Nepali Children Education Fund myself, when he shared that students from grade four were unable to read Nepali word “ कुकुर ’’, I knew he was not exaggerating. His account accurately represents poor quality of education in public schools and disparity between public and private education systems of Nepal. Changing stories Nepal adopts a unique approach in teaching through “Accelerated Learning Courses”. Where, instead of grouping students according to their grades, they are grouped together according to their learning level. Each group comprises 15 students and is given targeted instructions. The students are facilitated by trained local instructors from Bachelors or Masters level two hours before or after school hours and the course focuses on mathematics and Nepali. However,due to the Pandemic programs by Changing Stories Nepal had to be halted.
The founder and CEO of Changing Stories shares “We are trying to come up with initiatives to address the tremendous lack of learning that is going to be even post-pandemic, if students are not learning in schools they cannot learn at home due to lack of access to technology.” Unfortunately, like many enterprises the non-profit is also dealing with the economic impact of COVID-19. Still, the optimistic Founder emphasizes that it was essential to find the solutions against lack of learning among marginalized students by staying within the present context as well as vital to improve the education system in Public schools post COVID-19.
Watch the full episode on Coronavirus and Marginalised students of Nepal with Founder of Changing Stories Rene Johnke here.
If you are from Nepal, you can support Changing Stories Nepal by buying CS Merchandise , by being a member of Changing Stories’ monthly giving community – The Classroom, or you can simply message them in their FB or Instagram Account and ask how you can help !
“Nepal goes under lockdown for a week starting 6am Tuesday.” 23 Mar. 2020, https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/nepal-goes-under-lockdown-for-a-week-starting-6am-tuesday
“The impact of COVID-19 on access to education in Nepal | VIN.” 12 Jun. 2020, https://www.volunteersinitiativenepal.org/vin-articles/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-access-to-education-in-nepal/