Wagla School, Gulmi Province, Nepal
Enduring the Covid-19 Pandemic: How United World Schools kept schools open and continued to educate their students during lockdown.
UWS Walgla is in large community of 1,500 people. There is a high degree of dependency on repatriated income from men working in Gulf States. There is access to a high school (G9-12) that older students can walk to (about an hour) - but primary school provision is very limited or non existent (i.e. too far to walk). This community is identified as Dalit, where marginalization and discrimination within the regional society is practiced. The Wagla community is fiercely resilient and is dedicated to lifting up their community through education. During the Covid 19 pandemic, the Wagla community has endured.
Following an impressive start to the year that saw 5,333 students in Nepal return to, or enroll at a UWS school, by May 2021, facilities across Nepal were forced to close again amidst a second wave of Covid-19. In February of 2022, they opened again.
Nepal has been a major victim of the deadly Delta Variant of Covid-19, first identified in India in early April 2021. The new variant soon crossed the long and porous India-Nepal border and by mid-May 2021, Nepal was reporting upwards of 8,000 cases a day. The true number is likely much higher owing to the country’s limited testing capacity; indeed, the Red Cross found that a staggering 44% of tests carried out in early May were positive, suggesting thousands more undiagnosed cases.
Faced with political instability, a limited medical infrastructure and a short supply of oxygen, Nepal was ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic on this scale. And while the daily case rates eventually dropped, the virus continues to present a major threat in rural provinces like Sankhuwasabha and Gulmi where UWS operates.
Within such a tragic context, we recognized a clear and urgent need to provide support to all UWS Nepal communities to ensure they were and are still prepared to combat this devastating virus. We also recognize the damaging impact Covid-19 could have on the future of education in rural Nepal; in addition to keeping our students safe, we strive to do all we can to keep them learning.
We developed a response system that looks to limit the spread of Covid-19 while minimizing the impact of lockdown on our students' education and well-being:
• We’re maintaining WASH facilities and offering continued advice on Covid-19 in all communities, while liaising with government officials to offer up UWS schools as Covid-19 isolation centrer where necessary.
• We’re distributing community relief packages — including sanitizer, soap, thermometers, oximeters, and face masks — to reduce the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak, and to quickly test any community members showing symptoms.
• We’ve held weekly essay writing and art competitions to increase student engagement and offered the chance to showcase their creativity.
• We’re distributing distance learning resources (books, worksheets) so that up to 4,500 students can participate in continued education from home.
• We have resumed the UWS Radio Nepal Program which reached 22,000 students in 2020. Many students who were not even enrolled in a UWS school tuned into our remote learning radio broadcasts, highlighting the deep desire that children and families in rural Nepal have for receiving an education. We also provided radios to families that didn’t possess one so that their children could participate.
• We’re offering targeted support to the most vulnerable UWS students – especially girls— through family care packages that include supplies of food, soap, and sanitary pads.
Attendance at UWS Wagla School
Our latest data sets show that 67 students are enrolled in the school, which is a very promising figure for the first year. We expect attendance to steadily increase as the school becomes more embedded into community life. Within this figure, 45% of students are female, which is extremely promising for our commitment to female education.
Student attendance stands at 98%. As many families often need children to support farm work and care for their younger siblings, it is really impressive that daily attendance remains so high. This reflects the community’s commitment to the education of their children. We will continue to work with the community to ensure attendance remains at this level.
Overcoming barriers to girls’ education
We are currently finalizing a new complementary program to help overcome barriers to female education in Nepal. This has been rolled out across all our schools in Nepal, including UWS Wagla School. Particularly in rural Nepal, gender remains a major barrier to education. Some families do not believe in educating daughters.