Virtual class is in session

An educator from Kathmandu on the lessons learned from the successes and persistent challenges of rolling out virtual education in her school amidst the pandemic

UNICEF Nepal
28 July 2021

Kathmandu, Nepal:  In early 2020, when schools around the country were first closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Gita Kafle felt helpless. Principal at the Nandi Secondary School in the capital Kathmandu, Gita says she was initially devastated, thinking of how this would impact the learning of all her students.

That concern for the children’s collective futures was also, however, what soon drove her to action.

“We decided to try to do whatever we could to help them through this transition,” she says.

This was how Nandi began its journey in virtual education – a first for the school, and certainly for most of the teachers and students. Based on the framework for online education – among a range of alternative education modalities developed as part of the Learning Continuity Campaign by the Government of Nepal and education partners to promote children’s learning during prolonged school closures – Gita and her team developed a strategy adapted to the specific needs of the school.

 

This image shows teacher Gita Kafle at her computer in her home in Kathmandu
Photo courtesy: Gita Kafle

 t was a slow start, the educator admits, with the initial few months spent in familiarizing herself and then her faculty on using online tools to conduct classes.

“With help from colleagues from other schools and those more comfortable with IT, we started by training the teachers,” Gita says, explaining how, over the course of several weeks, teachers learned the basics of video conferencing, as well as to prepare documents and slides to share with students online.

“It was a huge learning curve,” she adds. “Many of the teachers didn’t even use email prior to this.”

The next step was to bring the students and parents in, for which Gita and her team decided to rely on a peer-to-peer initiation approach. A number of students who had experience using digital platforms were assigned to train their fellow schoolmates in joining lessons online, while for younger students, teachers began to individually call and work with parents to download the necessary applications onto their devices, and ensure they could help their children log in.

Today, over a year since the school launched its virtual classes, there have been a lot of adjustments and improvements made, based on “trial and error”, according to Gita. The school now uses a special app with features for submitting and grading assignments, they have gone through different platforms to find the one that suits everyone the most, and something of a schedule has been established with each grade attending approximately three-hour classes per day.

This image shows a screenshot of an online class being held at the Nandi Secondary School.
Photo courtesy: Gita Kafle

Gita says, however, that she feels there is still a long way to go before classes can be made truly effective. “We’ve done this for a while, but I still feel like there’s always some new obstacle coming up,” she expresses. Among these are unstable internet connections, difficulty in retaining children’s focus, and screen fatigue both for teachers and students.

“Running virtual classes are a lot more stressful than doing them in person… you have to keep an eye out for so many little things that could go wrong.”

Gita also admits that while the team at Nandi have managed to make online education functional for now, the digital divide continues to be a massive challenge – particularly in more hard-to-reach parts of the country. “Even among the parents at our school, the issue comes up every now and then,” she says. “For example, you might have a family with several school-age children but there might not be enough or any devices for all of them to use.” For the benefit of such families, Gita says she had made arrangements to provide them access to the school’s facilities – while ensuring safety precautions – when required.

Still, despite the challenges, Gita is keen to look on the bright side. “COVID-19 and the lockdown has really forced us out of our comfort zones, to try things that we wouldn’t have thought possible.”

She refers to the change she’s seen in her teachers, who had been extremely skeptical of online education early on, but who now boast a range of new digital skills and are eager to learn more. “Recently, we held exams and 90 per cent of children were able to give these online, while for the rest we conducted their tests on the phone,” Gita says.

“Is this system perfect? Not at all. But we’re doing the best we can.”