Rural high school students use radio classes to keep up with their learning as schools in Nepal were closed with the covid-19 lockdown
Closing all schools was one of the first steps the government took to control the coronavirus outbreak in Nepal in early March of 2020. This was quickly followed by a nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions that came into effect on March 24th.
With Secondary Education Examinations (SEE) just around the corner, grade 10 students in particular were worried about how the closures would affect them. “At first I thought our exams would be postponed for a few weeks or so. But as the weeks turned into months, the level of uncertainty grew. We didn’t know if we should continue our preparations. I was afraid I would forget the syllabus,” said Laxmi Bhatta, a student in Dhangadi.
Laxmi and her peers had good reason to be concerned. The SEE secondary level graduation examination is considered a significant milestone in any student’s life in Nepal, and is notoriously difficult – approximately 500,000 students appear for the examination every year with a pass rate of only 40%.
The uncertainty of the rescheduling of the exams coupled with the threat of the outbreak and lockdown stress did not bode well for the students. An assessment conducted in the second month of the lockdown on psychosocial impact and stress revealed the uncertainty of the SEE as one of the major causes of stress among school girls.
The Supporting the Education of Marginalized (STEM II) Girls in Kailali – Mercy Corps Nepal Educational Project – accelerated its efforts to provide SEE revision classes to grade 10 students in accordance to its contingency plans and the findings of the second assessment. Among other goals, STEM II aims to improve educational outcomes of girls sitting the SEE, increasing female graduation rates.
The revision classes were disseminated through local FM stations as they are the most popular and accessible source of information in the region. A rapid assessment found that distance learning through mediums like the internet and TV was not feasible, as many students lacked internet access and hardware like laptops, smartphones, and televisions.
|English||8: 30 AM to 9: 30 AM|
|Maths||9: 30 AM to 10: 30 AM|
|Science||4:30 PM to 5:30 PM|
|Nepali||6: 30 PM to 7: 30 PM|
|Maths||8 AM to 9 AM|
|English||9 AM to 10 AM|
|Science||5 PM to 6 PM|
|Nepali||7 PM to 8 PM|
Distance learning via radio was a new approach in Nepal, and delivering it on short notice was an uphill task. The project selected teachers for the four core subjects (Maths, Science, English and Nepali) and recorded 15 hour-long sessions for each subject. The sessions were aired through three local stations that covered two districts of Kanchanpur and Kailali with a reach of more than 500,000 listeners. The project aired the sessions starting June 5 in coordination with the provincial government and Good Neighbors International.
The Effects and Usefulness of the Activity
Although it is too early to accurately measure the impact of the radio class, many grade ten students have said it has helped them revise and understand content for the four core subjects. The students were able to utilize their free time during lockdown by listening to the radio to improve their learning. The radio classes were developed for easy understanding to accommodate all levels of students.
The radio sessions served as revision classes helping students recall what they had learned in the academic year. “I used to get confused about grammar. But listening to the radio tutorials, it became easier. After the academic year was over, I had forgotten some of the content. By listening to the radio, I remembered things,’ added Laxmi.
‘I found Science class easier to understand because it was in Nepali. The teacher used to repeat contents and provided good examples which made it easier to understand,’ said Mamta Nidhi of Dhangadhi.
Challenges and Opportunities
STEM II social mobilizers who collected feedback from students say that while the quality of the radio class was good, there are some difficulties. To incorporate the needs of all the students, the radio classes had to cover basic topics then only proceed on to more complex issues, an approach which did not work as well for students who were already working at more advanced levels. The lack of interaction and two-way communication was also inconvenient as students could not ask questions. Some students also wanted stronger focus on specific topics they found challenging. “I wish they focused more on Geometry,” said Mamta Nidhi of Dhangadhi, who worries that this is her particular weak point when it comes to Mathematics.
Despite these issues, distance learning through radio has shown tremendous potential in providing supplemental and alternative learning to vulnerable populations with limited access to information technology.
The Road Ahead
As the COVID-19 cases continued to rise with no reopening of the schools in the foreseeable horizon, the government has now decided to cancel the nationwide SEE exams and replace it with internal school assessments for this academic year. Still, the radio classes have helped students feel like they are not falling behind and forgetting everything they worked so hard to learn. ‘Even if it was declared that there would not be SEE this year, I continued to listen to the radio classes. After listening to the Maths classes, I felt like I learned more,” said Nidhi.
Even as the national lockdowns are eased, the uncertainty over when and how schools will reopen continues, so provincial governments are placing even more emphasis on distance learning and the STEM-II project has received requests to share expertise to help shape more programs that can work as a stopgap measure to help students through this crisis.