Some are worried about how to strike balance between work and childcare


With COVID-19 infection spreading at an alarming rate among schoolchildren, the government has called for the closure of educational institutions from April 20 till the end of the month.

The closure has come as a boon for Bhumika Darshandhari of Thimi, Bhaktapur, as her daughter Barsha extends helping hands at her shop.

Barsha's school suspended physical classes from April 20 opting for online classes. Apart from helping the mother kill boredom by talking to her, Darsandhari says, "I can leave without shutting the shop.

Otherwise I needed to shut shop even to go for lunch."

Barsha attends online classes on a mobile phone and does her homework at the shop itself. According to KP Suwal, a staff at the Education Division of Bhaktapur Municipality, the municipality issued a notice to stop physical classes and run classes in alternative way from April 21.

"Almost all private schools in the community are running online classes, while some community schools are operating classes by sending homework to students by calling their guardians. The administrative wings of the schools are open."

Basanta Acharya, Information Officer at Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said KMC decided to close the schools after parents/guardians' request for suspension of physical classes considering the rising number of virus cases.

"We decided to follow the government's notice issued on April 19. Our municipality issued a notice to run classes finding an alternative to the physical classes. Schools can conduct exams by not calling more than 25 students at a time," informed Acharya.

Not much aware about the increasing risk of COVID-19 infection among children, Darshandhari got to know about Barsha's school closure from neighbours and from Barsha herself. Expressing her relief, she said, "It is good that we don't have to worry about our children getting infected at school."

Purnima Tandan, a fifth grader at a school in Naikap, is happy to be able to study without any fear of being infected with COVID-19. "It is difficult for us to wear face mask for long time when we go to school," she said, adding, "We always have to be conscious about wearing a face mask,washing hands properly while at school. We need to focus on our safety as well as studies, both at the same time.

But now we can focus just on our studies."

Her mother Mamata Thapa has taken the government move to suspend classes positively, though she said there could be difficulties at times, like she had to miss out on attending a programme as there was no one to take care of her daughter as her mother-inlaw was not around. But she says that on other days Purnima's grandparents will be around if her job demands commuting.

However, it is not the same for Sunita Tamang - she will not be able to leave her two sons at their rented rooms in Kamalbinayak, Bhaktapur, when she has to leave home to set up her shoes stall. She doesn't have anybody to look after her children as her husband too drives a taxi.

"On one hand, it is good that the children are not at high risk of being infected, but on the other, it is difficult for working people like us. We don't have internet at home for their online classes. They may quarrel with each other or damage things at home. We run our business in the open, so children cannot study even if we take the children alone," she added.

According to Dharma Datta Devkota, president of Guardians' Association Nepal, guardians will be worried about their work as well as children who are home without the supervision of parents. "But safety comes first. So avoiding physical classes is essential at present."

Outlining the challenges that parents/guardians face due to the closure of schools, Tikaram Puri, president of Private and Boarding School Organisation Nepal said that parents/guardians might worry about their grown-up children not staying at home, going out to meet friends.

"Studying from home is a bit challenging. There won't be much of a problem for those who have gadgets, but for those who do not have access to the internet, it will be difficult and hamper their studies," he added.

Devkota suggested that though young children need to be looked after, the grownup children can be engaged with household chores as well.

Also to address the fear that children will be distracted from their studies at home, he suggested that children's activities be monitored carefully.

He encouraged parents to engage their children in activities such as cooking, cleaning, farming and gardening. Puri also pointed out that the decision to close schools will be ineffective if other sectors fail to follow safety protocols.

"I am not saying that the other sectors also should be closed, but all sectors need to be equally responsible for the health safety of all. And there should be strict implementation of safety measures in all sectors. Otherwise, closing of educational institutions will not fetch desired results."

A version of this article appears in the print on April 24, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.