The school year during the pandemic (11/02/2021)

2020 was a challenging year at the Tapriza School in Nepal, as it was for many people around the world. The Coronavirus pandemic, the corresponding regulations of the Nepalese government and great uncertainty shaped the life of the children, teachers and villagers in Dolpo. What remained was the dedication of our staff, the students’ eagerness to learn, the trust of their parents and the support from our sponsors, members and donors in Switzerland.

Until mid-March 2020, our tenth grade students studied at the winter school in Kathmandu as usual. They had prepared intensively for their final exams. These were supposed to be held on March 19th in Dunai. For this occasion, our teachers and the tenth grade students had arrived in Dolpo a few days in advance and were waiting for the big day at their accommodation. Less than 24 hours before the exam date, they received the notification from the national examination board, quite unexpectedly stating that due to the corona pandemic, the final exams were cancelled nationwide. Our vice school manager Ram Chandra Budha waited for a new date to be announced. Instead, the government declared the national lockdown. Together with the students, the local Tapriza teachers returned to their respective home villages in Dolpo. The school was closed indefinitely. All children were to stay at home for the time being.

The future remained uncertain for a long time. The closure and the corona regulations were extended every few weeks. The school administration continued to wait for further instructions from the government.

In June, there were still no COVID-19 infections in Dolpo. Therefore, together with the parents’ council the school management decided to give the children an education this year despite the difficult conditions. Upon request, the school management received permission from the Ministry of the Interior for the teachers living outside the district to travel to the school. Then, our vice school manager Ram Chandra Budha chartered a rented jeep with four other teachers from Kathmandu to Dolpo. According to the Coronavirus safety regulations, they initially remained in quarantine at the school for fourteen days. After that, the government health worker should have officially tested their health. But because he did not appear, the teachers had to hold out eight days longer. Then the relief: all of their test results were negative.

In July, the school finally reopened with adapted lessons and teaching plans. The school received verbal permission from the local education commission, as there were still no COVID-19 cases in Dolpo and with no access to internet, digital learning was not possible in the remote village communities. The school management developed a safety concept and emergency measures in case someone at the school should contract the virus.

By July, the pupils in the sixth to tenth grade walked to class every day. They did not live at the school as they usually would have, as this was not allowed. It took some children more than three hours to reach the school, but they were glad they could attend class at all. At first it was just the students from the closer villages in the Phoksumdo Valley. But at the request of the parents, children from other valleys were also allowed to join. This, under the condition that protective measures were observed and the parents took care of external accommodation and meals. Some students camped on the premises of the health post or lived in the winter village of Palam. The lessons were carried out in strict compliance with the safety measures. The temperature was measured when entering the school premises. The students and staff wore masks at all times, regularly disinfected their hands and had to wash their hands with soap six times a day.

Since the younger children could not come to school, the school developed a concept of mobile teaching. Three groups of three teachers each visited the villages of Pugmo, Ringmo, Rikhe and Renchi in rotation. Here too, the safety measures were followed. After four months of adapted lessons, the school year ended with exams in November.

The adapted teaching concept of the Tapriza School with mobile lessons was very well received by the parents. They appreciated that the children lived at home and could help with the work in the fields and look after the animals. At the same time, their restlessness and the growing knowledge gaps in the curriculum could be countered with the mobile lessons offered. Therefore, when the Tapriza School started with its adapted lessons, the parents were extremely grateful.

Also together with the parents, the school management decided to postpone the winter school in Kathmandu for the time being. The capital had a high number of COVID-19 cases and nobody wanted to risk the children’s health. However, some were forced to do the trip. The eleventh and twelfth grade students were ordered by the government to take their exams in Kathmandu. They had spent the school year in Dolpo because the colleges in the capital were closed. Consequently, it had been impossible for them to participate in online lessons. How they are supposed to pass the exams and how the exams will be marked remains unclear. 

Currently, most of the schools in Nepal are still closed. In 2020, generating an income was difficult in Dolpo and in other parts of Nepal as trade, tourism and labour migration ceased. The Yartsa Gumbu season was also cancelled . In addition, a plague of locusts destroyed part of the harvest. Thus, many parents have used their reserves. 

For all these reasons, we have planned an increased budget for 2021. So that the Tapriza NGO could – if necessary – completely cover the costs of meals for the children and also support the local population in other ways.

Lessons with mask and social distancing