By Shishir Pandey, Senior Program Officer at OLE Nepal | June 2020
For the program team at OLE Nepal, 2020 was the year we had planned to visit all of our laptop program schools in the far-western region of Nepal to assess their progress and to provide programmatic and technical support. It was also an opportunity for us to meet with new teachers and local educational authorities.
In early January 2020, as the news of the novel coronavirus was spreading, our team had just completed visits to 43 schools in Bajhang. Shortly after that, the government declared that the school year will end earlier, and hence the visits to the remaining schools had to be put on hold.
OLE Nepal launched a COVID-19 information page to inform and educate our users about the virus and the preventative measures as per WHO guidelines. This page was included in our free and open digital library, which has nearly 1,500 visitors per day.
On March 24, 2020, after the second case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nepal, the government declared a two-week nationwide lockdown as a necessary measure to stop an outbreak. Without much notice, our offices had to be closed for safety, and we started our new work-from-home practice. The initial days were filled with online team meetings to discuss how we can prepare the new school year which was supposed to start in mid-April.
IMMEDIATE RESPONSE FOR EDUCATION
Within the first few days of the lockdown, different groups working in the education sector came together with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) to discuss possible ways of continuing education while students remained at home. As an immediate response, OLE Nepal provided the links to all our online resources to the Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CHERD), who then published an official notice regarding the availability of digital resources for free, especially for parents, students and teachers.
After several meetings and discussions with officials, OLE Nepal signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with (CHERD) on April 23, 2020, to collaborate to make digital lessons available to students, and immediately provided our complete collection of digital learning content to be uploaded in the CEHRD’s official education portal. OLE Nepal was the first organization to provide learning content to the government for free to share on their platform.
WORKING AND TEACHER TRAINING FROM HOME
As the nation-wide lockdown was further extended into the new school year session, our training team started coordination with different local and central governmental authorities, as well as different organizations and education groups to explore how we could assist teachers and students who were stuck at home. We also used our social media channels to reach out to the teachers, students and interested groups remotely.
It is important to note that most private schools in the major cities of Nepal had started online classes, however, most public school students did not have the same resources. In such cases, we found that teachers were taking the lockdown as an opportunity to prepare for when the schools eventually open for regular classes. With many teachers and organizations interested, OLE Nepal’s training team started to conduct virtual orientation and training on digital content, E-Paath, and digital library, E-Pustakalaya.
We approached the sessions in a different modality than a usual webinar. Our priority was to encourage hands-on practice and an interactive Q&A session, so we kept the number of participants to a maximum of 25 teachers per session. This allowed our trainers to address the queries of each teacher, without being rushed. The sessions were further divided into two days to ensure that the teacher would have time to go through the contents and come back with any questions that they may have for the trainers. During the two-day sessions, teachers were familiarized with digital content and ways and techniques of using these resources during this lockdown period.
While some teachers were personally signing up for the training, we also collaborated with different organizations to reach out to more teachers and schools across the country. We organised separate orientation and training sessions for the teachers from Teachers Association from Bharatpur Municipality, Chitwan; Society of Technology-friendly Teachers in Terhathum; science teachers from Society of Technology-friendly Teachers in Sunsari; and Kehi Garoun (NGO) in Kathmandu. Two full-day teacher training sessions were also organised for 32 teachers from Manakamana Secondary School in Sankhuwasabha. The school was able to conduct the session via Zoom with the OLE Nepal team in Kathmandu, while maintaining physical distancing and safety guidelines.
We have received positive feedback from teachers who have participated in our sessions, and have the highest regard for the quality learning materials developed by OLE Nepal. It was heartening to see teachers carve out time and resources for these training sessions, and their reaction and feedback. We even had teachers in remote schools sign-in for training using their personal mobile data services. Over 400 teachers from different schools from all seven provinces have participated in our virtual training sessions so far.
As there have been numerous requests for such orientations from different organizations and teachers groups across the county, we will be conducting similar sessions in the coming days, even as the lockdown is being partially lifted. We are still accepting applications for online training sessions. We hope that this kind of initiation and collaboration with different organizations and teachers groups during this lockdown period when schools are closed, will create opportunities for teachers to reach their students.
Even though the lockdown has been eased in many parts of the country, schools remain closed at the moment as some schools (including a few of our program schools) in remote parts of the country are serving as quarantine facilities.
MoEST has issued new guidelines that suggest all the local levels to categorise their students based on their access to resources and technology, and instructed them to run the classes as per the categorization. In this regard, OLE Nepal has continued further discussions and coordination with the chief of Education Development and Coordination Units (EDCU) and head of the Education unit at the local levels across our program district to seek the possibilities of engaging teachers and students in the learning process.
OLE Nepal’s leadership are also engaging in dialogue with the larger education community in Nepal on how we can collectively use the lessons from this type of lockdown to strengthen our education system with the help of technology. We will be reporting more on the progress and status of our efforts in helping support public education during this pandemic.