There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to every sector- be it the economy or education or public health. The pandemic caused global public health crisis disrupting the entire socio-economic development process worldwide. As COVID-19 has already proved to be a stumbling block to economic growth and investment, the whole world may have to continue facing its fallouts in many years to come. The underdeveloped nations like Nepal will have to put in extra efforts to bring their economy on track. However, the coronavirus-induced restrictions, especially lockdowns, have become a blessing in disguise for Nepal's education sector, to a great extent. In the absence of physical classes after the introduction of the lockdown, the virtual learning has gained ground among many students. In most cases, the new teaching-learning methods have been found to be more effective than traditional ones.
A lot of teachers, guardians and students, who previously did not have any idea even about how to open useful software tools like Google, Viber, Gmail, Zoom and Messenger, have now become competent to use them. According to a news report carried by this daily on Thursday, this new expertise has boosted their confidence as well as efficiency. This has become quite encouraging for them to further their knowhow about the modern information technology. They could find it to be very useful in the future, too. The use of technology is reported to have risen by about 30 per cent in the country since the imposition of the lockdown. Besides, sales of laptops, mobiles, along with their accessories, have also increased immensely. It is certainly a positive aspect.
But the gloomy side of the increased use of gadgets for teaching-learning activities is that it has exacerbated the digital divide. Only well off families can afford to buy laptops and smart phones, and have access to internet connection. Those who cannot purchase such gadgets and services have lagged far behind. This form of digital divide might be quite upsetting for the rural poor. Thus, even basic education has become a mirage for a large number of children belonging to the poor families. The students enrolled in government schools are mostly from the poor economic background. Since physical classes in most parts of the country have yet to resume due to the fear for the contagion, such children have no alternative but to kill their time by doing nothing. So, the damage it causes can be quite irreparable for them.
Educationists say that the academic sector’s swift but unplanned use of such technologies may have aggravated the problem of digital divide. They say that the sudden access to the limitless virtual world, especially non-academic, could open up many areas of distractions for pupils and their parents. This also makes it difficult for parents to guide their children properly. Another problem is that many teachers and guardians still do not show much interest in getting involved in in virtual teaching-learning processes. Bearing the implications of the widening digital gap in mind, the responsible bodies now need to address this pertinent problem and other issues associated with virtual learning.