Supporting girls in Nepal with distance learningPublished: Dec 3, 2020 Reading time: 4 minutes
In Nepal, the Aarambha – Leave No Girl Behind project, funded by UK Aid's Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) and led by People in Need, is providing literacy, numeracy, and life skill classes to married, out-of-school girls in Province No. 2 of Nepal. The project works with married girls between the ages of 10 and 19 who have either never been to school or were forced to drop out early.
Bharat Shrestha, PIN Program Manager, explains: “The project is conducting classes in the girls’ communities to teach them basic literacy and numeracy. The project is also providing life skill sessions on violence against women and girls, safety and security, sexual and reproductive health, emotional wellbeing, and leadership. As part of the referral mechanism, the project also provides girls with information on available services at the local level.” Based on the project’s referral pathway, the girls are provided with support while being connected to additional services.
One beneficiary of the project is Devi (name changed), a Nepali girl who was married to a boy in India at a young age. Two and a half years ago, Devi returned to Nepal to live with her parents and in 2019, she enrolled in the project.
A few months before Nepal’s nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, Devi's husband came to Nepal and started living with her. One night, Devi was abused by her husband. Social and gender norms within the community usually mean that young girls do not speak up about this type of abuse. However, having attended the sessions offered by the Aarambha project, Devi reported the event to the police.
Adapting to the pandemic
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, groups of 15 to 20 girls gathered every day in Community Learning Centres (CLCs) to attend classes in their villages. However, the CLCs were closed in March 2020 because of Nepal’s nationwide lockdown.
To continue to provide the girls with access to education, the project adopted a Distance Teaching Learning (DTL) programme, in which facilitators reached out to the girls via mobile phones to continue their sessions. "Though I have never been to school, I am interested in learning. Instead of feeling alone at home, learning through mobile phone makes me engaged. This phone is provided by my Ami (mother-in-law) and Aba (father-in-law) so I can study and use it based on my need," shares 19 year-old, mother of 2-years baby, Muslim girl. One local facilitator notes: "I assign homework to each girl after we have completed the chapter. During class the next day, I check that she has done her homework by asking her to answer the questions in the chapter. While at the CLC, it was easier to teach the girls to write. It is quite hard to check their answers over the phone. Some girls who are weaker in their studies, and those who do not have educated family members to assist them, find it difficult to do their homework and learn."
Though there were some difficulties, this alternative DTL approach has been able to bring out some positive finding vis a vis supporting girls' continuous learning in an uncertain lockdown period, engaging girls positively in stressful situations, disseminating essential health messages, services availability etc. via facilitators during the call, creating positive relationship and trust between girls and their families, and also between the project and the communities through direct contact.
The project also used mobile phones to check on the wellbeing of the girls during the lockdown, disseminate COVID-19-related information and services, and ensure family engagement during the time of DTL.
Spreading awareness through local radio
The project is also disseminating messages about violence against women and girls, child marriage, safe motherhood, education for girls, and free psychosocial counselling through local radio programmes. “Community leaders, the local government, and stakeholders - collectively called change champions - were engaged in these adapted approaches to ensure the girls’ engagement and safety, and to address harmful social norms and practices like gender-based violence,” says Shrestha.
This year, the Aarambha project is supporting 1,709 married, out-of-school, adolescent girls with literacy, numeracy, and life skill courses. These girls are educationally marginalised and have been deprived of other socio-economic opportunities as a result of harmful social norms such as child and early marriage. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the project team has been notified of three cases of gender-based violence, and immediately provided referrals and contact information for support services to the families.