In the last five years, Nepal has faced multiple catastrophes, such as the Gorkha Earthquake, floods, landslides, fires and now the COVID-19 pandemic. And it continues to be at high risk of other calamities due to poor disaster preparation and response management system. Following the coronavirus outbreak globally, more than 300 people have tested positive in Nepal, with two deaths. A nationwide lockdown has been enforced since March 24, which has subsequently led to sufferings in every sector, and education is no exception.
During disasters, schools remain closed and affect the children’s academic journey. And if such a situation continues for long, it might even degrade their learning potential. Natural disasters lead to unscheduled school closure, which prevents children from acquiring academic skills, such as reading and writing skills, and subsequently affect the academic achievement. Primarily, the children of pre- and basic schools are most affected. Therefore, there is a need for arranging alternative modes to allow children to continue with children’s teaching and learning during such adversities. It is thus important that children’s parents and family members play an active role in such a situation for the child’s academic progress as well as cognitive development.
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, where social and physical distance is mandatory, parental and family roles become more prominent as children confine themselves to the home and limit their interaction with only the family members. The social construction theory highlights the importance of the family’s role in developing the reading needs of children. It is necessary to reconstruct the social structures and values embedding the education culture, such as library reading, mobile community reading events and education club establishment. Socialisation of children with such an education culture will lead them to practise educational activities in the family and community, which will contribute to enhancing the children’s interest in their own education during disasters like COVID-19.
So in order to develop a reading culture at home, the parents and family members can engage in book reading by themselves and ask children to read at the same time. However, what is being observed during the lockdown is that many parents engage themselves with electronic gadgets, such as a mobile, laptop or television and expect children to read books. Younger children mostly imitate their elder family members, so the family members can help develop a reading culture in their children at home.
Besides, family members can create a school environment at home because there is a crucial need for remedial support for children’s education. The parents can create a print-rich environment with alphabet charts, rhymes, shapes and other instructional materials. Additionally, if the parents are educated enough, they can support children’s learning by using textbooks. To make reading fun and encourage children’s lively participation, they can create an entertaining and informal setting incorporating singing, dancing, mimicking and storytelling.
Likewise, during such calamities, parents and family members should increase interaction with the children because children are physically and psychologically weak in such situations. Parent-children interaction is necessary to develop children’s communication skills, which contribute to establishing a social relationship both at school and in the community. The parents should interact with their children, focussing on the teaching and learning activities of schools, which enable children to recall their understanding and solidify their disposition. This doesn’t mean superseding a school’s responsibilities, only its roles become a bit different but inevitable at the same time.
Schools can offer online education to the students as has been practised so far in limited number of schools across the country. Modelling and facilitating online education, based on curriculum-based learning achievement, however, demands a different pedagogical approach than in face-to-face classroom teaching. The teachers have comparatively more difficulty in engaging small-aged children who study in pre-school or at the basic school level. Children of this age can be attracted to an electronic gadget if the teaching and learning is designed and delivered in a techno-friendly and fun way. Likewise, the schools can play a mentoring role in educating parents on ways to support children during the lockdown. This may include informing parents about children’s educational deficiencies through a different communication channel. The schools can organise a teleconference with parents and educate them on ways to support children’s learning, based on a broader learning framework.
These are the immediate actions that can be accommodated by both the parents and schools to engage children in academic activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the future, the schools, as well as parents and other stakeholders, can prepare for an implementable strategy to cope with such hazards. The strategy may include listing out the most probable natural and human-made calamities, analysis of their impact on school education and coping techniques, the requirement of school infrastructure to cope with such hazards, development of an alternative curriculum for a disaster and subsequent pedagogical system, online piloting classes and preparing for an emergency. Therefore, the school-family partnership model is the best in developing children’s educational resilience during disasters.