In Nepal, an education union has highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to new challenges. These include non-payment of teacher salaries by some private school employers, the psychological impact of the lockdown on students, and the challenges of online teaching.
As Nepal came to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic, one issue that confronted the education sector was salary payments in private education.
The Sansthagat Vidyalaya Schickshak Union Nepal (ISTU) has urged the government to put pressure on private school employers that used the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse not to pay salaries and dismiss education staff.
“Some of the private schools have not paid their teachers and teaching staff since February and the surge of the COVID-19,” said ISTU President Kumar Thapa. “Only a few schools with higher numbers of students have paid salaries until April, and most of the schools have not paid the salaries in May and June.”
Thapa pointed out that Nepal has approximately 6,500 private schools. Considering all levels of education levels, this represents 2.5 million students and 175,000 teachers (of whom over 60 per cent are females).
No instruction from government about salaries
While the Nepalese government asked private schools not to take the monthly tuition fee from parents/guardians during the closure due to COVID-19, it did not give any instruction about teachers’ salaries and services. According to Thapa, private schools have used this as an excuse to not pay the salaries of teachers.
The ISTU has been informed that part-time and contract teachers were being dismissed in private schools. Teachers and educational staff were also reporting that their condition was critical, and that it was difficult for them to raise their families.
Online training and teaching
The private school salary issue was just one area of concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the situation was confusing in the first week after the lockdown, the union rallied quickly and, “in the second week, we discussed [things] with social security fund managers and received training”, said Thapa. “Meetings of national committees and secretariats were held continuously. And we arranged online training for teachers, covering ICT and personal development topics.”
Teachers had been requested to teach students online, he stressed. “We are still teaching. That is why we urged public authorities to guarantee employment continuity and salaries of teachers.”
- Urged employers to listen to the voices of teachers
- Called on the government to intervene and help solve issues that arose
- Raised the issue of private teachers’ working conditions through their confederation, the Nepal Teachers’ Federation-CNT.
“We warn that we will take further, stronger action if no satisfactory and sustainable solution is found,” Thapa said.
Concerning the needs of students, the ISTU believes that students should be given formal recognition for classes taken online. It has also called for a gradual easing of the lockdown to reduce the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students.
Together with six other organisations, including the school administrators’ organisations (PABSON and N-PABSAN) and parents' organisations, the ISTU is running a digital campaign to highlight issues in the sector and to inform the political leadership. “We made teacher issues public through public media. In some districts, we collected money and food items and distributed them as relief,” added Thapa.
The seven organisations aim to:
- Mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on students and educators’ safety and on the teaching and learning processes
- Help with the management and regulation of schools
- Reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the national education system
- Safeguard quality education by protecting the employment of teachers working in institutional schools
- Save the economy of the nation
- Create comfort zones for parents
They presented the government and education stakeholders with the following suggestions:
- Resort to remote education
- Provide economic support to teachers and education staff
- Ensure a safe and healthy school environment post-COVID-19 by changing the classroom and school infrastructures, involving the school management, representatives of teachers’ organisations, and the various education stakeholders in the discussions
- Proceed with exams under certain requirements, e.g. some exams to be led by a national education board after the lockdown
EI’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund for survey, training, and publicity
The ISTU has been allocated funding under Education International’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund. This will help the education union to survey teachers in all seven provinces on issues such as:
- Are schools open or not?
- Have the opened schools' paid teachers’ salaries?
- Are the opened schools safe for teachers/education workers and students?
- Do the teachers and educational staff have to bear an extra workload?
The union will be able to use the results to help:
- Organise training for teachers
- Organise on-site school visits in the seven provinces (about 100 schools)
- Run a media campaign (digital and print)
- Print leaflets