Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Pitch For E-learning In Lockdown

Mukti Rijal


Enormous possibilities and opportunities come wedded together with risks and challenges. However, it requires alertness and inventiveness to figure out and discern the opportunities and possibilities hiding behind the challenges and constraints. Moreover, there is also a need to have an enthusiasm and energy to make use of opportunities and put them into better and effective use. Needless to say, the nation has been reeling from the painful battering of the coronavirus. The public life has come to a complete halt and national economy is forced to shut down. In the difficult situation created by extended lockdown, educational institutions are embracing the idea of using digital technology to keep teaching-learning going. This may be their compulsion too since they have to keep themselves retained in their undertaking to resume full operation once the situation gets normal.
Noteworthy to mention in this context is the way Tribhuvan University has shed its inertia and sluggishness and started to use digital technology to ramp up its teaching learning profile. This writer did make sad commentaries on the state of affairs of Tribhuvan University in write-ups published in this paper in the past especially taking note of the decline in its academic integrity and credentials. Now it looks like that this premier seat of higher education in Nepal is poised to strive to mend its ways for some semblance of improvement and positive change.
Especially, its current initiative to make proactive use and adoption of the digital technology to run academic courses and keep faculties and students engaged during this difficult time of COVID-19 lockdown is an indicator of its efforts towards finding ways and means to continue with its calendar of operation. In fact, TU has been reduced into a very traditional, politically polarised and dysfunctional institution for the last several decades. It was subjected to harsh scrutiny for failure to maintain its academic track record.
But the way it is trying to revive and recover from the morass of decline deserves to be noted with hope and appreciation. The introduction of online classes operated through cyberspace in the constituent and affiliated campuses of the university when the entire academic activities have been forced to come to a dead end has inspired and generated a new ray of hope. The constituent campuses like Saraswati Multiple College have been at the lead to introduce virtual learning in different disciplines including in business management, sociology and many other subjects offers a new fig in its drive for change and improvement. Of course, using virtual space for operating academic classes is itself a very challenging proposition in our context where access to internet is not elaborate and extensive enough. It is generally estimated that seventy per cent of the local units in the country have been provided with an access to internet. However, not all people living in these local units can afford to finance internet connections and enjoy its access.
As TU caters to a wider universe of students coming from different social and economic strata, in its rank and file there should, of course, be a larger percentage of students who cannot afford to pay for using internet access wherewithal including laptop, smart phone, data package and so on. Though almost all the TU constituent and affiliated campuses have started to run online classes for at least MPhil and Masters Level but student coverage is inadequate, informed Dr. Shiva Bhusal, rector of the Tribhuvan University. As mostly the TU faculty members and students have not been attuned to the technical intricacies involved in online classes using virtual spaces, this has presented yet another challenge. To offset this challenge and constraints, the university has gone ahead towards capacity building of the campuses apart from preparing an expert group of competent IT trainers. The IT trainers are pressed for conducting training to almost eight thousand teachers in running virtual classes in the campuses, said Dr. Bhusal.
With a view to facilitating and strengthening operability of the electronic learning, the TU is also introducing new software better known as Learning Management System (LMS). This will be much more convenient than zoom meeting which is expected to aid both teachers and students to make teaching learning experience properly interactive and dynamic. Through LMS, teachers can create and integrate course materials, articulate learning goals, align content and assessments, track progress of students, and create customised test through assignments and discussions. It also allows the communication of learning objectives, contents and organise learning time lines for delivery.
The software’s leverage and operability is claimed to be that it delivers learning content, interactive discussion and tools straight to learners. The teacher can add text, images, tables, links, slideshows et al for enhancing visualisation of teaching and learning effectively. In total, it can aid teachers to communicate effectively and make teaching and learning dynamic enriching and resourceful. Introduction of digital technology to aid and expand learning resources in the institution like TU where straitjacketed text book-based conventional way of teaching and learning has been entrenched, should be welcomed as this can build competence of the teachers and students to opt for harnessing knowledge and information from internet resources.
Though given the present context and realities, this cannot replace the class room based teaching-learning milieu, it will definitely contribute to make both teachers and students motivated to explore new avenues of knowledge resources and engage in the pursuit of competitive learning. Moreover, TU will need to complete restructuring of its organisational and academic structures and functions to ensure that it reclaims its due place in the new evolving context of the country.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.