Learning is not always easy, especially during emergencies, but it should not be stoppedPublished: Mar 8, 2021 Reading time: 6 minutes
Eighteen-year-old Apsana (name changed) has never been to school however, she recently had the opportunity to join a Community Learning Centre (CLC) in her village. The CLC is run by the 'Aarambha' project supported by UK Aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge, and is being led by People in Need (PIN) Nepal in conjunction with local partner Aasaman Nepal. The project is working with married and out-of-school adolescent girls from the Rautahat and Bara districts of Nepal, providing literacy, numeracy and life skills courses.
Sometimes Apsana’s class attendance is irregular - not because she is not interested in studying - but because she has a baby to take care of. After finishing all the regular household chores, she attends the classes. While she is in class for 2-3 hours, her in-laws take care of her baby. Just like Apsana, there were 1,709 married out-of-school adolescent girls enrolled in the project’s literacy, numeracy and life skill classes from 2019 to 2020. The girls come from some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged ethnic communities in Nepal (33% Muslim, 19% Dalit). Over 50% of the girls had never been to school, and the remainder had dropped out of primary school, with a small number from secondary school.
Nationwide lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19
On 24 March 2020, the Nepal Government declared a nationwide lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Due to this, all program activities were abruptly suspended and the project had to close all 83 CLCs.
Apsana is bound to her home again. She doesn't have a class to attend. She cannot go anywhere because of lockdown. The days were passing doing regular household chores and taking care of the family."One day, we received a call on my husband’s phone from the project asking if I wished to participate in the learning through phone. I was extremely happy hearing the news," shares Apsana joyfully. She adds, "I would be studying from home for 2-3 days a week via phone for 15-20 minutes a day. We talked through all the details with my in-laws and agreed it was feasible.”
To avoid disruption in learning and to continue to support the girls with regular teaching and learning, the project piloted and then scaled-up an alternative approach, prioritising distance teaching and learning through the use of mobile technology. The local female facilitators taught the girls through mobile phones, and also disseminated COVID-19-information and related services available in the community. "My husband was home most of the time so I could easily use the phone to participate in the learning but sometimes my baby cries and disturbs the class. Then, my husband supports me in my study. Though it was difficult, I really enjoyed learning through phone," shared Apsana. The project completed distance learning with 1,214 girls from May to September, 2020.
Another girl, Khusbu shares, "Since my mother has a phone, I could easily participate in the distance learning. I was happy thinking that at least I could study during the lockdown. Earlier, I didn’t have access to a phone but for studying I had to use a phone and I learnt to use it as well." Addition to the learning, the distance teaching also created trust between the girls and their husbands/in-laws as they were able to see exactly what the girls were learning. "I can give more time to learn and one thing became great that my family understand the value of my time, I spent, in CLC now. Now they know that I stay in CLC to be literate and nothing else”, shares another girl. While some of the girls sought comfort & routine engagement through DTL. "I am interested in learning, so even though I am alone at home, learning through mobile makes me engaged. This mobile is provided by my Ami and Aba (mother and father) so I can use it based on my need."
However, not all girls had access to mobile phones, and not all guardians provided consent for distance learning. Therefore, the project disseminated messages through radio programmes to reach the girls across all project working areas. The messages focused on safe hygiene during COVID-19, gender based violence (GBV), sexual and reproductive health, information related to pregnancy and safe motherhood, available reporting support mechanisms during the pandemic, and messages around the harmful effects of both child marriage and school dropout. Similarly, weekly talk shows and scripted drama/role plays were planned on different themes related to girls’ education, such as the status and action plans of local level authorities for out-of-school children.
Reopening of Community Learning Centre’s
After six months of complete CLC closure, the project introduced procedures for safe re-opening of CLCs after the government eased the lockdown and restrictions in September 2020. All 83 CLCs were fully sanitised and cleaned before re-opening. They were all equipped with basic hygiene and sanitation stations (hand washing corner and sanitiser) and all necessary personal protective materials (masks, gloves) were made available for the girls and facilitators.
People in Need's Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Mainstreaming Coordinator, Arishma Shrestha explains, "The project was able to adapt to distance teaching and learning approaches right after the lockdown. The ones who could not attend the remote sessions and who were lagging behind in terms of learning progress were prioritised, and the project team introduced learning in small groups by re-opening CLCs; holding true to the name of the project ‘Leave No Girl Behind’." At first, the project re-opened only four CLCs in October 2020, one in each working municipality, for two weeks. The project staff ensured the facilitators and the girls followed the safety protocols and the local government’s directives. After monitoring the four CLCs for two weeks the project team explored the possibility of re-opening all the CLCs. "Though I was studying through phone, I was missing my friends and learning in group. I am glad that I could join CLC in small group now but I miss my other friends who couldn’t join together with me," states thirteen-year-old Khusbu. She further adds, "We have to sanitise our hands and wear a mask before entering the class”. In late October, the project re-opened all 83 CLCs in small groups of three to six girls (depending upon the size of the room) and resumed regular learning activities for an hour. Before the pandemic, one CLC consisted of 15-18 girls, and classes would run for 2.5 to 3 hours a day.
“An emergency situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can put marginalised girls at higher risk of dropping out from a learning intervention, potentially excluding them further from other benefits and life opportunities that education can bring. Their increased educational needs should be met through programme adaptation. Distance teaching and learning was full of challenges, both technically and technologically. However, it has helped retain the girls in regular learning, which is further boosted by the small group learning in CLC, as girls tend to learn more efficiently through physical interaction together with their peers. The programme has started to train all project staff to prepare for all adverse circumstances to ensure that learning is continuous and uninterrupted” – Bharat Shrestha, Program Manager for People in Need.