Tuesday, 11 August, 2020
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OPINION

Education In Emergency



Umesh Raj Regmi

 

THE world has never seen a school and college shutdown on this scale before. During World War-II, classrooms were widely empty, mainly in rich countries. The merciless hit of the novel coronavirus pandemic is having a tremendous effect in the education domain, along with emotional trauma and its economic impact. The socio-economic situation and emotional wellbeing again gives a blow in education. The COVID-19 crisis in education not only creates an opportunity for alternatives in teaching approaches, learning and examination but also establishes a social cohesion in several grounds. More than 200 countries in the world now are facing the educational problems due to the coronavirus-related closure of educational institutions, and Nepal cannot be an exception. Nepal’s education, particularly public education is fledging with various lacks and lapses in which the coronavirus crisis has added some more problems and dilemmas. The result of education in the catastrophe is likely to bring about a paradigm shift in the system, however.
Scenario
Amid the coronavirus closing of academic institutions and extending lockdown, about seven million school-level students, and half a million university students are staying at home now. Likewise, the scheduled School Education Examination (SEE) was postponed just before twelve hours of the exam. Consequently, around half a million SEE-appearing students are dubious about when their exams will be rescheduled, and what form the rearranged exams will take place. Similarly, the final examination of grade 11 and 12 has also been postponed until another notice. Hence, in about 1,450,000 students from 10-12 grades are exam-fevered in the present crisis, but with uncertainty. Additionally, some running exams of universities, and the licensing examination of the Nepal Medical Council are suspended. The restlessness of these many students, their parents, guardians, concerned schools, colleges, teachers and exam boards is quite pervasive. And, the regular classes from nursery to tertiary levels are hindered. The coronavirus fence in academic institutions in Nepal will take time to clear. Hundreds of schools and campuses in the country are now being used as quarantines.
Alternatives
The unprecedented breach of academic activities has several options to forge forward in Nepal’s context. Virtual classes, though limitedly, have the chance to benefit students- both exam appearing and class attending. In the same way, homeschooling to the junior school students might be an option if the parents or accompanying others are capable of tutoring the children in different subjects. An online education to the higher-level students can be an effective option. Some useful applications and software for the online education are Zoom, Moodle, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Mobile Data Package. To suit the Nepali soil, distance learning and open education are worthy, and can be rather accelerated. To reach the remote parts of the country, lessons via radio and cellphone will be effectual. Television can be a great alternative of the classroom teaching, as it is audio-visual means of information. Radio, TV and data packages represent a one-way traffic flow of teaching and learning, however. Now, let’s come to the stark reality of the directed alternatives. Except for the few options mentioned above, Internet access is a must for most. In the ministry report, only 13 per cent public secondary schools in the country are with Internet access. In the latest study of the Sharecast Initiative, 43 per cent of the total population in Nepal has Internet access, and social networks like Facebook only consume most of the activity. So, the limited access of internet and electronic gadgets to students of public schools and campuses is a serious problem. Furthermore, it is challenging to run the classes online to a large mass. The literacy level of the parents, students’ interest in alternative learning, equitable programmes in socially, culturally and geographically diverse country are the added questions in administering the alternative modes of education. Students with learning disability may well face other problems.
Regarding the postponed exams of different levels, the alternatives are few. Additional exam centres in favourable locations of the examinees might be an option. In coordination with the local level authorities, students can appear for examinations in the locations they are at the moment. Many students of grade 11, 12 and higher levels have now moved home and they will have difficulty in coming to pre-arranged exam centres. The concept of home centres may not be applicable in the situation. Students’ performance in internal exams, and the grades obtained in qualifying tests will be the last resort, if the virus threat is prolonged.
Suggestions
This is the right time to bring about changes in the calendared classroom teaching and learning for the long-term benefit. A phenomenological learning is highly recommended. Education needs to be flexible and situation-based. A model can be found in Finland’s education practice in this regard. A top priority should be given to public health and epidemiology in the course of compulsory subjects in school and higher levels. A shared sense of stability and belongingness is necessary while planning for emergency education. The pattern of the curriculum and school-level course needs to be changed pragmatically and to meet the local interest and resources. Classes must be accessible to all the students, not to the selective ones. It is not necessary to copy all of the practices of developed countries. The concerned ministry should always come with the practicable plans to run exams and classes in the present crisis. The plans and programs should be remote-centric and in the line of experts’ advice. The coordinated role of the three-tier government, non-governmental and private sector is pivotal in coping with the educational crisis. The alternative education can be run based on the accessibility of these ICTs, and teacher’s ideas on operating the technology in a proper way. Teaching in community by mobilising the teachers and volunteers locally seems to be an appropriate model in rural areas. This will lessen the digital divide between private and community schools in running classes in crisis. The teachers can be sent with teaching equipment. Let us be resilient and be patient a bit more while we gradually return to normalcy.

(The author is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation. He can be reached at umesh_regmi71@yahoo.com) 

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