Monday, 6 December, 2021

Education In Shadow Of COVID-19

Uttam Maharjan


THe COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc with human lives since late December 2019. The pandemic has disrupted almost all economic activities across the world. The world economy has been badly hit. In Nepal, too, the economy has remained virtually stagnant with the closure of industries, factories, businesses, hotels, tourism activities, airlines and other sectors.
The COVID-19 has left severe impact on the education sector. It is a matter of grave concern that over one billion children are out of school at present worldwide due to the closure of schools. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that the attendance of children in schools may be bombarded back to the pre-1980 level, indicating that the level of attendance may be greatly slashed once schools reopen after the situation has come back to normal.

Online classes
In Nepal, schools have remained closed since March. Schools have tried to resume classes several times but the raging COVID-19 has acted as a deterrent. As such, alternative methods of learning-teaching have been explored. Accordingly, some schools are conducting online classes through the internet. The government is also conducting online classes through radio and TV. However, not all school children are able to attend such classes as access to such technology is not available to all children across the country.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has launched an e-learning portal for students up to grade 10. The materials contained in the portal include contents on all topics, which can be downloaded. The basic thrust of the portal is to supply required materials to those students who have been deprived of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic so that it will be easier for them to keep up with their studies when schools reopen. The government has asked both government and private schools to use the required materials kept in the portal.
The coronavirus may impact school children disproportionately. Children from poor families, mostly in rural areas, may find it difficult to afford textbooks and other required materials like exercise-books and stationery. Such children and their parents perceive that education may not guarantee employment. Now, COVID-19 has affected poor families to a great extent. They have lost jobs and hence their income has also been affected. In such a situation, it is most likely that they may not send their wards back to school after classes have resumed. This is because such children may be forced to engage in labour to support their families. On the other hand, girl children may be married off. So the impact of COVID-19 may be pronounced on poor families, giving rise to an increasing incidence of child labour and child marriage and a higher dropout rate in schools.
Children from underprivileged groups are the first to suffer whenever a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic crops up. Some children, especially in rural areas, are educated through the remittances sent by their parents or siblings working in Gulf and other countries. Many of such workers have lost their jobs and are either in the country or still marooned abroad. The children or siblings of such workers may drop out of schools for lack of financial resources. Ergo, the dropout rate is expected to rise.
In fact, inequality in education is based on geography, castes, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender and other factors. UNESCO considers these factors responsible for the poor quality of education around the world. When it comes to education, male children, children from higher castes and children from urban areas prove to be fortunate. Now that children have been confined to homes, some children may face psychological problems when schools reopen. Although some children have attended online classes, most are deprived of such education. Due to the disruption of classes, they may feel psychological burnout.
In such a situation, psychological counseling may be required. As five months of the academic session has gone down the plughole, it may be trying times for both teachers and students when schools reopen. Both teachers and students may have to make up for lost time. Teachers may have to complete their courses in a short period of time, while students may have to prepare themselves for exams accordingly. With very little time left for completing the session, festive holidays may have to be cut short and winter vacations cancelled. This may put pressure on students and even affect them psychologically.
Dropout rate
Nepal is pulling out all the stops to declare itself a fully literate country. The country has made a great achievement in this regard. To make a breakthrough in the education sector, the School Sector Development Plan (2073-2080 BS) has been in effect. The Plan has three components: basic education (from class 1 to 8), secondary education (from class 9 to 12) and lifelong education (for out-of-school children and illiterate adults). The objectives of the Plan are aligned with the goals of graduating the country from the status of least developed country to that of developing one by 2022 AD and making the country a middle-income country by 2030 AD. It is obvious that skilled human resources, inter alia, are required to fulfil these goals. The disruption of the education sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic may make it a bit difficult to attain the goals.
In view of the current devastating situation, just resuming classes after the situation has come back to normal is not enough. Schools and the concerned authorities should ensure that the dropout rate is kept at a minimum. A higher dropout rate may adversely affect the national campaign of declaring Nepal a fully literate country, which is just a few steps away.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.