As the world is still reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic, it has created a lot of adverse impacts on the health, learning and psychosocial development of children. The pandemic has left dreadful effects on child education, most notably those from poor and deprived families. Children need to develop early stimulation activities like naming objects, counting, drawing, reading books, telling stories, singing, dancing and going outside among others to be on track of their normal physical as well as mental development. They have to come in contact with different section of people in the process of socialising, interacting and learning. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, which brought restrictions on the normal operation of physical classes and education related trips, many children are deprived of developing their learning skills. According to a recent report prepared by UNICEF, one out of five children between the ages of 2 to 4 years in Nepal is not developing on track amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a serious issue when it comes to all round growth and development of children. Hindered development in the sensitive stage of life can have negative repercussions when they grow up to become adults. Many of the missed aspects of development may not be compensated later in life.
The Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI) survey conducted in August revealed that children from lower income families, living in rural areas, with no or low levels of education, and not attending early childhood education (ECE) programmes were at higher risk of being developmentally off track. The report shows that children who attended government ECE were at higher risk of being developmentally off track compared to those who attended other programmes. This global public health crisis will be remembered for its deeper and long lasting effects in the learning and overall development the young generation. The UNICEF alarmingly revealed a plunge in pre-primary level learning activities during school closure. Modern communication technology came in handy to adopt distance learning but 34 per cent of children were not able to learn through alternative methods. Lack of access to technology, related gadgets, lack of electricity supply and other financial constraints might have created alternative learning barriers.
During the time of lockdown and prohibitory orders, alternative learning modalities including online classes, mobile teacher and tele learning through radio and TV tele-teaching were implemented under the government’s emergency action plan. As per the UNICEF study, however, low-tech solutions, such as educational radio and TV and tele-teaching were not effectively used. Children learn first from their parents. Therefore, parenting education is also essential to support children’s learning at home. Parent’s engagement with children is needed to build their resilience in times of hardship like COVID-19 pandemic. Learning at home can be a desired approach to make up the missed learning opportunities in classes. In order to provide equal excess of education and learning environment among children, the government, development partners, teachers, parents and other stakeholders need to innovate effective remedial learning. The concerned authorities need to develop a system to support teachers and parents who would be helpful in teaching learning at home and schools. Considering the crucial development phase of children, parents needs to pay attention to this issue and give sufficient time to enhance early stimulation activities for growth and learning.