Avinash Jha, UWS Nepal Education Director, updates us on how COVID-19 is affecting the communities we work with in Nepal, and the actions we're taking to support them. 

What is the current situation in Nepal?

Officially there have been only 57 cases of Covid19. The nationwide lockdown started on March 24 and has now been extended until 7th May. With this decision in place, everyone throughout Nepal is required to remain at the home. All movement on the roads, by vehicle and on foot, is currently prohibited. There are exceptions in place for businesses and access to medical supplies and food. 

How has the team in Nepal responded?

In line with the Ministry of Education's guidance, all Education Officers and Fellows working in communities were asked to return to our central office in Kathmandu in March, and we are now all working from home. We immediately began brainstorming ideas to train our teachers and engage them in distance learning. We divided our program into three parts:

1. Awareness Campaign

UWS works in the rural parts of Nepal, where awareness about COVID-19 is comparably much less. We started the awareness campaign from the first week of April in coordination with principals, School Support Committees and community teachers. Child-friendly awareness videos and posters were prepared in Nepali language and information was disseminated with the help of community teachers and principals.

To strengthen the awareness campaign a Facebook group was created where School Support Committees, community teachers and principals are added and materials are constantly being shared. To prevent the spread of misinformation, teachers and principals were asked to share only authentic information in their social media. They were asked not to share any random information about COVID19 (which is a common trend these days). Principals and teachers are relaying this information to as many parents and children as possible. Also, some teachers printed those materials and posted in various places across the community when it was safe and legal to do so.

 2. Regular student engagement

April is the school holidays in Nepal, so children were not missing school. However, to ensure the engagement of the students in the lockdown period, we initiated various extracurricular activities like an essay competition, a poem competition, an art competition, and a story writing competition. All the extracurricular activities are conducted virtually with the help of community teachers and lots of children took part.

 3. Development of remote learning plan

With the help of principals, community teachers and Fellows we have started a remote learning model. While many communities don't have internet access, 98% of households in Nepal have access to a radio. We have been given regular slots on local radio stations in the regions we work.We have already started playing these recorded contents through local FM stations. We are hoping the radio content broadcasting could reach more than 75,000 children daily. We believe local FM can be used to deliver the curriculum in an engaging and interactive way, by asking children to react to questions and exercises through verbal response. This medium can provide service to a large number of children. Through our community teachers, we spread the information about when to tune in. 

As the Education Director for UWS Nepal, what are your concerns about the effect of the crisis on education in general?

We are living amidst one of the greatest threats of this century to a global education crisis. As per UNESCO, nearly 1.6 billion world’s student population across 190 countries are not physically attending school. This is equivalent to almost 91% of the world’s total enrolled students. No wonder, the pandemic is set to create the largest disruption in global education.

Most of the developed countries around the world have already moved to online learning strategies, though it takes a lot of effort from teachers and parents. We will know its effectiveness only after the crisis is over, but for now, this seems an only good option. However, the scenario is not promising in the middle and least developed countries. There is a vast inequality in terms of access to technological options and capacity of teachers delivering distance teaching. Majority of children do not have access to books, internet connectivity, a computer at home, and most importantly lack of awareness among parents on home-schooling. 

The children from middle and least developed countries were already facing a learning crisis, children being enrolled in school, but not having basic literacy and numeracy skills. Further to this, extended school closures may cause not only loss of learning in the short term but also further increase in dropout rate and increased out-of-school children. After getting habituated with a new daily routine, children might lose interest in going to school and attending school regularly. 

How are the communities we support coping?

Fortunately, no cases have been reported in our working districts and communities and the lockdown is keeping our communities safer. However, Covid-19 will have a significant impact on the lives of children, their families and the community. The measures used to contain the virus, such as extended school closures, lack of mobility and lockdown, have created negative consequences for children’s wellbeing and placing additional stresses on families and communities. To mitigate any risks that might arise in a future course, we have taken some actions to help our children and communities cope up with future uncertainty.

No bad incidents have been reported so far, but we are continuously asking our teachers and School Management Committee to spread positive messages, asking community members not to panic and asking for help if there is anything. Through our radio programs, we are regularly reminding parents and children to wash their hands, to take care of children and elderly people, and stay safe at home.

Are there any positive learnings as a result of the current situation?

One of the positive learnings that we never thought before is coming up with a radio program to ensure students continue to learn remotely, despite not being in a physical school. Secondly, the awareness campaign that we have been conducting for the last three weeks will help parents and children to focus on hygiene and cleanliness. In the long-term, we hope this will help develop better hygiene behaviours across our working communities.

We launched our Covid-19 Emergency Appeal on 7th April 2020 to support these programmes. We urgently need your support to stand in solidarity with those in need around the world. 

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