Saturday, 6 March, 2021
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EDITORIAL

Inclusive Tele-learning



In the beginning, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged as the medical emergency. Its propensity to transmit from one person to another within short span of time forced the virus-affected nations to adopt onerous measures like lockdown and physical distancing. This painful method to contain the contagion bore negative consequences for business and economic sector. Then, the pandemic morphed into economic catastrophe. With tight restrictions on the public mobility, it globally caused third sort of emergency that is the crippling of education sector. Schools, colleges and universities have been closed down, with millions of students unable to attend their regular classes and scheduled exams. They are now in a big dilemma about their academic future.
In order to make up their loss resulting from the suspension of classroom-based education activity, Nepal government pushed for distance learning through the means of radio, television and online platforms during the pandemic. No doubt, this was the right decision to engage the students in the education activities while staying indoors. Distance learning is not a new phenomenon, as it has been practised and recognised since decades, but it has now come in handy in coping with the challenges posed by the coronavirus. Online education and distance learning are not identical concept though people have started using them interchangeably because the internet has become its main medium.
For the success of distance learning, some requirements must be met – supply of high speed and uninterrupted internet and electricity supply, availability of laptops or desktop computers and basic computer knowledge. Though there is rapid expansion of the internet, with millions of people using mobile phones, those living in the far-flung parts of country have no easy access to the modern technology and ICT knowledge. This is a reason why a large number of school children are unable to benefit from distance learning during the lockdown. A report of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released Friday stated that more than two-thirds of Nepal's school children are deprived of distance learning during their school closures. The UN agency had conducted its Child and Family Tracker survey, which shows that the poorer the household, the less likely it is that children can access or will use distance learning. Only five per cent of children in the poorest households have access to and use distance learning.
It reveals entrenched inequality facing the Nepali children from poorest households - only three out of 10 children have access to television, radio and internet-based learning platforms. Of them, only 80 per cent use distance learning platforms to pursue their educational activities. Distance learning was mooted as the viable alternative to brick-and-mortar education in the wake of nationwide lockdown which was imposed on March 24 this year and lasted for 120 days. Now more than 50 districts are under prohibitory orders and curfews to prevent the virus spread. As there is no possibility of reopening the schools and colleges in the near future, the concerned bodies need to devise effective policy to make sure that children from the poor and marginalised families are not excluded from the distance learning. The government should encourage and invest in the community-led initiative to make distance learning more inclusive and result-oriented. 

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