Parents welcome government decision to introduce several alternative learning platformsThe decision comes as all students do not have internet service at their homes to access online classes.
It has been almost seven months since Pooja KC’s children last went to school. When their school shut down in March as part of the government measure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, KC was told that classes will be held online. But the school stopped its virtual classes within a month.
KC’s children, aged 14 and 9, attend a small private school in Baluwatar, Kathmandu.
“The parents were told that the school was unable to provide online classes because the attendance was very low,” KC told the Post. “Most families that study in the school are not well off and cannot afford separate devices to give to the kids. Even in our family, we have one smartphone and one tablet and during the few weeks that the classes were held, it was really difficult for us to manage.”
Anju Shrestha, another parent of an eight-year-old girl, said her daughter could not attend online classes since the school did not offer the service for students below grade five.
While Shrestha is at her job at a department store, she leaves her daughter with her neighbours. The child spends most of her afternoon watching TV at the neighbour’s.
In June, Shrestha even tried to follow the virtual learning sessions aired on NTV Plus, but her daughter would not watch them.
Both KC and Shrestha told the Post that their children choose to spend their time watching cartoons on TV, playing games on mobile phones, or venturing outside to play with other kids in the neighbourhood instead of studying.
Both the mothers are worried about their children contracting the coronavirus. On the other hand, they are also torn between having to decide whether to let the children spend their time in front of a screen for the entire day or to allow them to step outside.
“I’ve tried everything from being hard on her to dealing with extreme patience but she refuses to study. Unless there’s a teacher breathing down their necks, kids just won’t listen,” Shrestha said.
Last week, the government came up with a directive that enables local governments to manage teaching-learning activities. Under this directive, students will be classified in five categories based on their access to remote learning platforms such as TV, radio and internet, and the classes would be conducted accordingly.
According to Tarapati Kharel, acting education officer at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the education department of the city office is presently in the process of categorising the students.
Kharel told the Post that all students will be able to avail learning opportunities within a few weeks.
So far, there has not been any effective education programme for children who have been out of school for months.
“We tried to provide online classes from Nandi Secondary School,a public school at Naxal, Kathmandu, but the turnout was very low,” Bharat Lal Shrestha, ward chair of Kathmandu Metropolitan City-1, said.
He is now of the view that only those students who take education seriously enrol in online classes.
Like Nandi Secondary School, other schools are also facing the problem of low attendance.
Prithvi Narayan Secondary School at Goldhunga has been providing online classes for the students from the fourth grade onwards, but the attendance rate of students remains poor.
“On a good day, the attendance rate is about 60 percent,” Madhu Aryal, a teacher at the school, told the Post. “We also have students who need to share one device between siblings and we’ve tried our best to accommodate them, but the main issue is the lack of internet subscription.”
According to Aryal’s experience, it has been difficult to adapt to e-learning for both teachers and students in the absence of a physical classroom environment.
“Initially the students were attentive and listened to what was taught but now they turn their videos off and do not participate in class,” he said.
Then there is also the technical issue. Most schools use Zoom, an online meeting platform, to conduct classes. However, since all schools do not have subscriptions, the free calling facility using a trial account automatically terminates the call every 40 minutes.
These interruptions disrupt the teaching-learning activities.
“I decided to discontinue online classes for both my children because they were not learning effectively,” Reshma Shahi, a parent, told the Post.
Since Shahi’s phone did not support Zoom, she was told by the school to purchase a new phone so that they could attend the online classes.
“The teachers kept texting my kids all day and sometimes even late at night,” Shahi said, admitting that she grew concerned given the number of hours her kids were spending online. “The internet could be a dark place if the children are left unsupervised for a long time. They were also getting increasingly anxious with the amount of messages they received, and they admitted to not learning much in these classes. So, I discontinued the online classes.”
Parents like Shahi have welcomed the government’s decision to teach students on various alternative platforms.
“I have been homeschooling my children these days. We haven’t been able to buy textbooks this year, so I am teaching them from their old textbooks. At this time, new learning content would be beneficial for my children,” Shahi said.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.