Modifying program activities during the nation-wide lockdown

By Shishir Pandey, Senior Program Officer at OLE Nepal | June 2020

For the program team at OLE Nepal, 2020 was the year we had planned to visit all of our laptop program schools in the far-western region of Nepal to assess their progress and to provide programmatic and technical support. It was also an opportunity for us to meet with new teachers and local educational authorities.

In early January 2020, as the news of the novel coronavirus was spreading, our team had just completed visits to 43 schools in Bajhang. Shortly after that, the government declared that the school year will end earlier, and hence the visits to the remaining schools had to be put on hold.

OLE Nepal launched a COVID-19 information page to inform and educate our users about the virus and the preventative measures as per WHO guidelines. This page was included in our free and open digital library, which has nearly 1,500 visitors per day. 

On March 24, 2020, after the second case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nepal, the government declared a two-week nationwide lockdown as a necessary measure to stop an outbreak. Without much notice, our offices had to be closed for safety, and we started our new work-from-home practice. The initial days were filled with online team meetings to discuss how we can prepare the new school year which was supposed to start in mid-April.

IMMEDIATE RESPONSE FOR EDUCATION

Within the first few days of the lockdown, different groups working in the education sector came together with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) to discuss possible ways of continuing education while students remained at home. As an immediate response, OLE Nepal provided the links to all our online resources to the Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CHERD), who then published an official notice regarding the availability of digital resources for free, especially for parents, students and teachers. 

After several meetings and discussions with officials, OLE Nepal signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with (CHERD) on April 23, 2020, to collaborate to make digital lessons available to students, and immediately provided our complete collection of digital learning content to be uploaded in the CEHRD’s official education portal. OLE Nepal was the first organization to provide learning content to the government for free to share on their platform. 

WORKING AND TEACHER TRAINING FROM HOME

As the nation-wide lockdown was further extended into the new school year session, our training team started coordination with different local and central governmental authorities, as well as different organizations and education groups to explore how we could assist teachers and students who were stuck at home. We also used our social media channels to reach out to the teachers, students and interested groups remotely. 

It is important to note that most private schools in the major cities of Nepal had started online classes, however, most public school students did not have the same resources. In such cases, we found that teachers were taking the lockdown as an opportunity to prepare for when the schools eventually open for regular classes. With many teachers and organizations interested, OLE Nepal’s training team started to conduct virtual orientation and training on digital content, E-Paath, and digital library, E-Pustakalaya.

E-Pustakalaya Online Orientation by Mr. Ganesh Ghimire (OLE Nepal’s E-Pustakalaya Coordinator)

We approached the sessions in a different modality than a usual webinar. Our priority was to encourage hands-on practice and an interactive Q&A session, so we kept the number of participants to a maximum of 25 teachers per session. This allowed our trainers to address the queries of each teacher, without being rushed. The sessions were further divided into two days to ensure that the teacher would have time to go through the contents and come back with any questions that they may have for the trainers. During the two-day sessions, teachers were familiarized with digital content and ways and techniques of using these resources during this lockdown period. 

While some teachers were personally signing up for the training, we also collaborated with different organizations to reach out to more teachers and schools across the country. We organised separate orientation and training sessions for the teachers from Teachers Association from Bharatpur Municipality, Chitwan; Society of Technology-friendly Teachers in Terhathum; science teachers from Society of Technology-friendly Teachers in Sunsari; and Kehi Garoun (NGO) in Kathmandu. Two full-day teacher training sessions were also organised for 32 teachers from Manakamana Secondary School in Sankhuwasabha. The school was able to conduct the session via Zoom with the OLE Nepal team in Kathmandu, while maintaining physical distancing and safety guidelines. 

Adjusted teacher training modality

We have received positive feedback from teachers who have participated in our sessions, and have the highest regard for the quality learning materials developed by OLE Nepal. It was heartening to see teachers carve out time and resources for these training sessions, and their reaction and feedback. We even had teachers in remote schools sign-in for training using their personal mobile data services. Over 400 teachers from different schools from all seven provinces have participated in our virtual training sessions so far. 

As there have been numerous requests for such orientations from different organizations and teachers groups across the county, we will be conducting similar sessions in the coming days, even as the lockdown is being partially lifted. We are still accepting applications for online training sessions. 

We hope that this kind of initiation and collaboration with different organizations and teachers groups during this lockdown period when schools are closed, will create opportunities for teachers to reach their students.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Even though the lockdown has been eased in many parts of the country, schools remain closed at the moment as some schools (including a few of our program schools) in remote parts of the country are serving as quarantine facilities.

MoEST has issued new guidelines that suggest all the local levels to categorise their students based on their access to resources and technology, and instructed them to run the classes as per the categorization. In this regard, OLE Nepal has continued further discussions and coordination with the chief of Education Development and Coordination Units (EDCU) and head of the Education unit at the local levels across our program district to seek the possibilities of engaging teachers and students in the learning process. 

OLE Nepal’s leadership are also engaging in dialogue with the larger education community in Nepal on how we can collectively use the lessons from this type of lockdown to strengthen our education system with the help of technology. We will be reporting more on the progress and status of our efforts in helping support public education during this pandemic.

A month in the life of OLE Nepal Feb-Mar 2010

Mid-February through March has been a busy time at OLE Nepal. Lots going on in the buildup to the second round of deployment.

In early March, a team consisting of officials from the Department of Education (DoE), the World Food Programme (WFP), and OLE Nepal visited program schools in Dadeldhura. The purpose of the visit was to study the feasibility of expanding the program to two more schools in the district. The team consisted of the Deputy Director of DoE Mr. Baburam Poudel, who is also the government’s focal person for the OLPC project, WFP’s Country Programme Coordinator, Ms. Pramila Ghimire, and OLE Nepal’s Executive Director, Mr. Rabi Karmacharya. The team was joined on the fourth day by the Director General of the DoE, Mr. Haribol Khanal, who took time out of his busy schedule to spend three days in Dadeldhura to gather first hand knowledge about the program. He was accompanied by the Chief District Education Officer of Dadeldhura, Mr. Ram Hari Das Shrestha. In addition to visiting one program school and one prospective school, he met with officials from the DEO to discuss ongoing education activities in the district.

Content Development: New lessons and activities have been added to E-Paath (OLE Nepal’s original lessons and activities package can be accessed at: http://www.pustakalaya.org/external-content/static/epaath/MenuStage.html) and new content has also been added to E-Pustakalaya (OLE Nepal’s education focused library can be found at www.pustakalaya.org)

Deployment: As we near the second round of deployment in April, preparatory work is underway. OLE Nepal’s enthusiastic volunteers have been spending their days at the World Food Programme office, where the XOs for this years’ deployment are housed. They have been making an inventory of all the XOs there as well as testing and tagging them. Deployment in Mustang took place end February-early March. Deployment occurred earlier there than in other schools because of the different academic cycle that the cold mountainous regions follow.

Teacher Training: Refresher training for teachers was held in Mustang between Feb 24-27. They are well into their second academic year of ICT-integrated education!

Capacity Building: A workshop was organized for Curriculum Development Centre officials on Feb 26, to primarily update them and get feedback on the latest content developments and to discuss designing comprehensive courses, with detailed guides for teachers, on integrating ICT into their regular teaching process.

Network: The network team have successfully connected all programme schools in Kapilvastu to the Internet. They are among the only schools in the district to be online. The team has also been hard at work surveying new schools to set up servers for deployment season.

*For more updates on the going ons at OLE Nepal, please visit the News and Events section of its website: http://www.olenepal.org/news_events.html

Refresher Training on ICT-integrated teaching Nov 2009

A residential refresher training on ICT-integrated teaching using OLPC laptops and OLE Nepal’s original content was held at the Government of Nepal’s Training Center in Rupandehi from November 22-25. In attendance were teachers and principals from three schools (Shree Pancha, Mahendra and Nepal Rashtra) and representatives from the District Education Office Kapilvastu.

DAY 1:

The training session started with the participants sharing their experiences with ‘e-paati’ (OLPC laptops or XOs) integrated teaching so far. The responses were mostly positive: attendance has been more regular, children have stopped running away after lunch break, and there has been a marked improvement and excitement in both English and Maths. They also pointed out the possibility of adult education through the laptops; one school has already been running regular classes for mothers after school. A major problem in some of the schools are language-related and the teachers were positive that Nepali activities in E-Paath will have a significant impact on the kids’ self-learning and catching up with Nepali (in the case of children whose mother tongue is not Nepali). There were some concerns regarding loss and destruction of laptops and with issues pertaining to the teachers not having the technical know-how to deal with even minor problems when they come up but the decision was unanimous: there has definitely been an increase in the gunastar (quality) of education since the introduction of the program.

The participants were given homework, to improve on a given ‘poor’ lesson plan (with each school producing one ‘strong’ lesson plan each) and also to bring their old lesson plans the following day. Just prior to the homework being assigned, a discussion on what makes good lesson plans and what must be done in planning a good lesson were discussed. These included figuring out an appropriate objective for the class, making lesson plans according to these set objectives, planning time out properly and finding relevant E-Paath activities and practicing them at least a few times before planning and seeing how they can be integrated into the regular lesson to best meet the objectives.

DAY 2:

The second day began with a discussion of previously made lesson plans by the teachers. The teachers were instructed to discuss their strengths and shortcomings and to then discuss what is already being done and what still needs to be worked on in the future.

The teachers felt that the format of the lesson plans were good and that time allocation had been done appropriately in most of the lesson plans. Also E-Paath activities had been somewhat integrated into the plans. However, they felt that many things needed to be paid careful attention to still. These included: clearly setting out the objective of the class and working towards completing it within the given timeframe, using teaching materials other than just e-paati, having a clear idea of what to do while the XOs are starting up and E-Paath is loading, clearly spelling out which E-Paath activity is being used as well as the relevant chapter in the textbook, and writing out directions for homework to be assigned. The trainers emphasized the importance of not wasting the time that it takes for the XOs and E-Paath to load, given the already tight time constraints.

Discussions on classroom management then followed. The trainers and participants discussed the importance of classroom management in ICT-integrated classrooms, to make sure the teacher is in control of what is going on, that no time is being wasted and that the students understand and follow instructions.

The conversation then turned to integrating E-Pustakalaya and its contents into the teaching-learning process. Teachers were shown how to download books, how to change their filenames and how to manage the books inside the XO. The key advantages of integrating E-Pustakalaya into the education system were then discussed: self-learning, independent inquiry, establishing of a reading culture and the ability of students to search things for themselves, like look up words in a dictionary.

DAY 3:

The participants and the trainers visited one of the schools Shree Pancha Lower Secondary School in Baijalpur on the third day. The teachers were all prepared to teach each with a lesson plan, but lots were drawn and six of them conducted test classes. The remaining participants were assigned specific classes to observe and evaluate. ICT-integrated teaching was tried out in three grades: two, three and six in Maths, Nepali and English.

DAY 4:

The group met and discussed the test classes from the previous days. Each teacher was given a chance to first evaluate their own performance and then the observers gave their comments.

Training Manual Preparation Workshop

OLE Nepal organized a three day workshop on December 23-25, 2008 to prepare the teacher training manual for the next round of OLPC laptop deployment planned for April 2009. The workshop participants included experts from the National Center for Education Development (NCED) – Nepal Government’s teacher training body under the Ministry of Education, as well as officials from the Department of Education (DoE)’s OLPC team. Teachers from the two test schools – Bashuki Lower Secondary School and Vishwamitra Ganesh Secondary School – were also invited for a day to share their experience on using , shed light on the challenges faced so far, and give suggestions on how the training program can be made more effective and relevant in integrating the laptops and ICT-based teaching-learning method in their classrooms. Earlier on December 15th, few of the participants had also visited the two test schools to observe how the program was being implemented in the classrooms.

The OLPC Project in Nepal will enter its second phase when the next school session begins in April, 2009. In the second phase, OLE Nepal, in partnership with the DoE, plans to expand the project to more than 20 schools in at least 5 different districts in the country. While OLE Nepal was able to train the teachers from the two test schools for the current deployment, it would be nearly impossible to train teachers in 5 districts scattered all over Nepal without NCED’s involvement. Moreover, since teachers have barely 3 weeks of break between two school sessions, the training programs have to be run in parallel in various places. With NCED’s involvement, not only can the trainings be conducted in parallel, but the project can utilize NCED’s training resources and infrastructure that are located all over the country. Following NCED’s training modality, one of its Master Trainer will be prepared on ICT-based education approach. The Master Trainer will then train other trainers from Education Training Centers (ETC) located in or near the pilot districts. These trainers will in turn be responsible for training pilot-school teachers ahead of the April 2009 deployment. However, before all of this, the teacher-training manual as well as the trainer-training manual need to be prepared.

The goal of the workshop was to prepare the framework that can be used as the base to create the teacher training manual. In addition to the valuable feedback received from the test-school teachers, the participants had last year’s training manual that OLE Nepal had prepared to train those teachers. The first day of the workshop was allocated for needs assessment. After a brief discussion on the points gathered from the school visits, teachers from the test schools answered queries that the participants had about various aspects of the test-phase implementation at the schools. Later on, participants and teachers mixed up in smaller groups and asked to make a list of suggestions that could to be incorporated in the new training package. The groups discussed about a wide range of topics including classroom arrangement, IT literacy, use of laptops in the classroom, classroom management, maximizing use of laptops at homes, non-technical issues and their solutions, parents and community orientation, etc. Suggestions from the groups were later incorporated into a comprehensive list that was used to prepare the framework for the manual.

Participants were given first half of the second day to review the existing manual, and the afternoon session began with participants expressing their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the manual. After much discussion, it was decided that the new manual should conform to NCED’s standard format so that its trainers can use it with ease during training. The training structure was kept similar to that of last year – 5 days of residential training followed by 3 days of on-site training. The teachers will be given at least few days’ time between the residential training and the on-site training in order to organize orientation programs for parents, communities and local stakeholders in each pilot-school area. This time will also be used by teachers to get familiar with laptops and raise their comfort level in using them.

Once the structure and outline of the training manual were finalized, the participants broke into four groups and set out to preparing the manual based on suggestions from Day 1, materials from the current manual, and other points that came out of the discussions. At the end of the workshop, a solid framework for the manual was prepared. It was decided that the OLE Nepal team will complete the the remaining task of filling up various portions of the manual.

In the next couple weeks, OLE Nepal team will work to complete the first draft of the manual. It will then be circulated amongst the participants of the workshop for a review before completing the final draft. The team is scheduled to complete the manual by the first week of February. That will give enough time to prepare a trainers manual and start working with a Master Trainer from the NCED. The teacher training program will take place between the third week of March and first week of April.

This workshop marked a major milestone in OLE Nepal’s effort to bring various government agencies on board the OLPC project. From its inception more than a year and a half ago, OLE Nepal has always held on to the belief that the project will fall short of its goal to reach all corners of the nation unless the government agrees to incorporate the OLPC initiative in its overall education plans and policy. With NCED’s involvement, the project can now benefit from a pool of experts who have in-depth knowledge of the country’s education system, as well as utilize existing training infrastructure to carry out the training programs. At the same time the partnership will help build the capacity of NCED’s trainers in the preparation and delivery of training programs on integrating laptops and ICT-based teaching-learning methods in classrooms.

During the course of the workshop, Executive Director of NCED Mr. Harka Bahadur Shrestha, Director of DoE Mr. Bishnu Devkota, and Deputy Director of DoE Mr. Baburam Poudel paid a visit to get an update on the workshop progress. While all three threw their support behind the project and expressed satisfaction over the ongoing work, it was particularly encouraging to hear the head of NCED Mr. Shrestha say that he wants to see this manual become NCED’s standard training manual on ICT-based education. He further stated that the training program should be turned into one of the standard training programs that NCED offers to public school teachers all over the country.