Monday, 6 December, 2021

Education Sector Facing Uncertainty

Uttam Maharjan

Due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the education sector in Nepal has turned topsy-turvy, affecting nine million students throughout the country. Globally, 1.09 billion students have been affected. Schools in the country have been shuttered since March 19 just before the lockdown began. During the lockdown, some schools conducted online classes but only a limited number of students could benefit themselves as not all the students had access to technology (internet connection) and even not all those with access to internet connection attended the online classes.

Alternative method
The lockdown has, however, been partially lifted since June 12. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a guideline entitled the Student Learning Facilitation Directive- 2077 on June 13 in order to allow students to continue their studies through an alternative method as there is no environment for them to attend classes in person. As per the directive, students have been categorised into five groups on the basis of their access to technology: those students with no access to technology, those with access to radios or FM radios, those with access to TV, those with access to computers but without internet connection and those with access to internet connection. Those students who have access to more than one medium can choose any one medium of their choice. Classes have been run accordingly since June 15.
Classes are being conducted in the Nepali language. As such, students from private schools where classes are conducted in the English language may find it a bit uneasy to learn. Further, it is not known how many students have taken advantage of this alternative method to give continuity to their learning. It is reported that over two million students are deprived of technology in the country. The alternative method is designed to overcome the tension of students over their learning opportunities. Still, some students may feel that they have not been promoted to the next level as they are learning from home. As soon as schools are re-opened sometime in the future, all will be back to normal.
Schools are in a hurry to enroll students despite the adverse situation. Some schools have demanded fees from their students although they have been shuttered, arguing that they had conducted online classes. It is also reported that some schools have demanded fees even in advance, citing the financial straits they are in. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has warned the schools in explicit terms not to collect fees in such an adverse situation. Student unions are also against the collection of fees. In fact, PABSON and N-PABSON have instructed the schools under their jurisdiction to collect fees from their students.
However, with the intervention by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in the fee collection issue, the matter has been solved for now. It may be noted that teachers from community schools are getting salary, while their counterparts from private schools are not. This is the reason private schools are trying to collect fees from their students. It may be noted that private schools charge hefty fees and make huge profits. They must have huge reserves at their disposal. At this critical juncture, salary should have been paid to their teachers by drawing on the reserves but they are not willing to do so.
On the other hand, SEE, 10+2 and some college/university exams have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has decided to scrap SEE exams this year and to give grades to students on the basis of internal assessment. The SEE exams were postponed at the eleventh hour when the students were preparing to sit for them. The students have now overcome tension over the SEE exams. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is mulling over giving grades to the students of Class XI on the basis of internal assessment but has not made a formal decision in this regard. However, Class XII exams will be held when the situation comes back to normal.
A lesson has been learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic that the country should invest in developing educational infrastructure so that the education sector will not be hampered even in adversity such as this. The importance of virtual classes has also been amplified. However, for lack of technology in every nook and cranny of the country, it is out of the question for all the students to attend online classes. The Prime Minister has said that technology will reach every home but it is easier said than done. There are umpteen remote and topographically difficult places in the country, where even electricity has not reached, let alone technology.

Appropriate strategy
So it has been necessary to develop infrastructure in the education sector, including road networks, electricity and information and communication technology (ICT) in such a way that every nook and corner of the country has access to such facilities. The pandemic has taught us many things, ranging from the need for improving the health sector to improving technology. Just holding webinars in well-appointed cities does not mean that technology has penetrated everywhere. It behooves the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to come up with an appropriate strategy for bringing about overall reforms in the education sector with a focus on technology.

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