When the Covid-19 pandemic reached Nepal, the government had no option but to follow other countries and close down its schools and cancel students’ remaining examinations. Most of the lockdown measures have since been lifted, but schools remain closed, leaving students stuck in their homes.
Aarav Tandukar, a 9-year-old from Kathmandu, misses being at school and around his friends. He says, “At home, I enjoy playing games on my gadgets, but my parents won’t allow me to play for long. Yet when I try to read a book, I get bored, and that’s when I really miss my school.”
Srijan Khatiwada, a Grade X student from Inaruwa, explains that online classes are not compelling enough for him. He prefers being in the classroom, and learning face to face.
Some schools have started online classes but many doubt the viability of these classes. So far, anecdotal evidence suggests online classes have not been very effective for Nepali students, deepening the doubts about this new form of “learning”.
Sujan Shrestha, a psychologist and faculty member at St. Xaviers College, says school closure has interrupted the process whereby children learn by observing and interacting with teachers and friends. “Live demonstrations and face to face teaching is always the best. As children’s attention span is limited, it is normal for them to get bored when they have to sit in front of a screen for long periods. Plus, staring at a screen is never healthy for children,” he says.
Children’s capacity to socialize is also being impacted, Shrestha points out. “In school, they get a chance to interact with both their peers and teachers, allowing them to build those necessary socializing skills. Losing this opportunity can make children aloof and decrease their capacity to navigate social situations and settings,” he adds.
Bidhyanath Koirala, an educationist, criticizes the way in which both the government and teachers organizations are handling the situation. He also fears children who are in their homes the majority of the day will get addicted to electronics. “If children are exposed to videos or images that are unsuited for their age groups and thus harm well-being, who will take responsibility?” he questions.
He claims the government and education system are not well-equipped to handle the loss of an academic school year. “When old students whose studies have now been disrupted resume their studies, the education system will have to accommodate both them as well as the new students,” Koirala says. “This won’t be easy, on the system as well as on the students.”
Separately, as children are being forced indoors, the feeling of being caged is growing. “Many children are getting angry, irritated, and violent,” adds psychologist Shrestha. “It is the parents’ duty to reassure their children at this difficult time, and help them understand that what they are feeling is perfectly normal, while also suggesting ways to calm those anxieties.”
Psychologists stress the importance of children engaging in creative activities, such as art projects, music, and learning new cognitive skills, while they are confined in their homes.
According to UNICEF, more than a billion students are still out of school due to lockdowns around the world. But over 70 countries have announced plans to reopen schools and hundreds of millions of students have already returned to their schools in recent weeks. And yet, for Nepali students, there is no clear path back to their classrooms anytime soon.