In April 2021, a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a nationwide lockdown in Nepal. The Delta variant was spreading throughout the country and communities acted quickly to protect the most vulnerable residents and limit transmission. For over four months, schools were closed. At the same time, billions around the globe had adapted their lives to protect their health from COVID-19 – limiting social contact, finding ways to continue work and education from home, and caring for their well-being in a time of communal struggle. But in dZi’s rural partner communities, a lack of access to computers, the internet, and even a reliable cell phone signal made continuing normal life far more complicated.
As the lockdown went into effect, dZi’s Quality Education Program staff knew that a key tool in their effort to continue serving students lay in the Ideas Fund – a program where teachers in our partner communities were invited to submit grant proposals for creative ways to engage students with limited access to technology and resources. 45 schools in the Khotang District submitted proposals for the Ideas Fund, and from those, science teacher Binod Dahal from Shree Kalika Bal Bikash Secondary School came up with the winning proposal. Binod’s innovative program was called ‘Tole Shiksha Karyakram’ (‘Neighborhood Education Program’ in English) and helped more than 120 students continue learning despite school closures.
While teaching isn’t the most prestigious or well-paid profession in Nepali society, Binod has always had a passion for teaching. “The knowledge and skills that teachers pass on to students are the foundation upon which every nation is built,” says Binod. Although he’s only been teaching in Rakha for a year, it’s a vocation he wants to pursue for the rest of his life.
As the lockdown went into effect, Binod watched the COVID-19 pandemic worsen pre-existing educational disparities. Children studying in urban areas were able to attend virtual classes with little interruption, while many living in rural areas lacked basic mobile networks, let alone internet access to attend remote classes. While their urban classmates were continuing their studies, many of Binod’s students spent their days working on family farms or helping with domestic duties while they waited for COVID-19 transmission to drop. Binod found that the extended time away from the classroom caused his students’ academic capacity to deteriorate. As the school year ended, students advanced to subsequent grades without having covered the required subject matter or taking their usual exams. He was deeply concerned about their academic success and knew he needed to help.
It was then that Binod learned about the Ideas Fund. He was excited by the opportunity to support his students and it motivated him to develop a plan. "I look for fun ways to teach my students all the time. I once requested a student to present a subject in front of the entire class while posing as a teacher. This approach worked better since the ‘student-teacher’ did more in-depth research on the subject and the rest of the students were more engaged.” Binod thought a similar idea could be effective outside of his classroom setting and reasoned it would be helpful to ask older secondary school students to conduct classes for younger primary school students.
With the Ideas Fund as motivation, Binod got to work. He had a vision of small groups of students safely gathering in their neighborhoods to study, share knowledge, and create the sense of community that felt so absent during the lockdown. The plan ensured that students could remain in their own neighborhoods – following COVID-19 protocols and ensuring student wellbeing. Binod submitted his proposal, and soon after, heard that dZi had selected his proposal for funding!
Binod selected eight secondary students to receive the teacher training. These student-teachers learned about lesson planning, how to walk students through complicated subjects, and how to best answer the younger students’ questions. After three days of intensive teacher training, the eight student-teachers were ready to start leading classes.
The classes were a huge success. The primary school students had lost academic progress but found it less intimidating to admit what they had forgotten when working with their older classmates. The student-teachers led their group through the curriculum they had designed and helped students pick up where they left off months before. The children were grateful to be studying again but were most excited to play with their friends. Ramit Rai, one of the student-teachers, spoke with Binod about how challenging it could be to keep his students engaged in the curriculum when they were easily distracted and eager to play. An experience that was quite relatable to Binod, he helped Ramit think of creative ways to integrate play into his teaching method. It wasn’t always easy to help his students stay focused on their studies, but Ramit, who is considering a career in education, says that his experiences improved his confidence.
Binod was thrilled to see how well the Ideas Fund classes were going but was even more gratified by how much the eight student-teachers grew from the program. He recalls, “One of my students was an introvert who didn’t have great social skills. Her personality underwent a significant transformation as a result of her involvement as a student-teacher. She developed the courage to speak in front of a crowd while tutoring younger children.”
Sapana Karki, a student-teacher from Kalika Secondary School, recalled, “It was a beneficial experience for all of us since we got firsthand experience teaching, managing children, and delving into the subject matter.”
Education programs like this have impacts that ripple through the community. Binod’s plan successfully kept students engaged in their studies and helped lower the dropout rates of students who had fallen behind academically. It helped his student-teachers gain confidence and valuable professional experience. It helped young students reconnect with their peers and build critical interpersonal skills. And it did all of this while following strict COVID-19 protocols and keeping vulnerable community members safe. Although a lack of access to resources and communication infrastructure remains in Eastern Nepal, dZi’s Quality Education Program and teachers like Binod are all dedicated to providing students with the best education possible. And as students showed us during the 2021 lockdowns, incredible things are possible when we work together as a community.
The photos were taken by Sitaram Thapa Magar (Samip).
Watch a video about the ‘Tole Shiksha Karyakram’ (Neighborhood Education Program) here: