The government on September 10 issued an important directive to the local bodies on the resumption of teaching-learning activities at school level, which have stalled for the last six months. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions across the country have remained closed since the first week of Chait 2076. And there is uncertainty over whether this year’s academic session, which should have started from mid-April, will be saved from going down the plughole. Amid the pandemic, several efforts have been made, both on the part of the government and schools, to resume classes but to no avail. It may be noted that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had issued a guideline named the Student Learning Facilitation Directive 2077 in June to enable students to learn through the virtual medium.
Responsibility Now, the government has assigned the responsibility for resuming teaching-learning activities to the local bodies. The local bodies are not happy with the government’s decision. Although the local bodies are responsible for the management of education at school level, they got more than they bargained for when they were directed to manage the teaching-learning activities for school teachers and students. The local bodies have accused the government of giving such authority to them too late after it has failed to manage the teaching-learning activities on their own. They also accuse the government of issuing the directive unilaterally without so much as consulting with them. According to them, the government has failed to assess the situation and passed the buck. The local bodies assert that had the responsibility for the management of school education been assigned to them in time, they would have managed it months ago. Not all districts have been affected by the pandemic proportionately. In the least-affected districts, the teaching-learning activities could have been resumed. And the students living in the districts would have benefitted. In the beginning, when the effects of the pandemic in the country were negligible, the government did not expect the pandemic to last so long. It thought the pandemic would come to an end in a short span of time. The government even underestimated the potential number of infections and fatalities. The speculation of the government has gone awry and the situation seems to be out of hand now. As per the directive, teaching-learning activities will have to be conducted either through the virtual medium or in small groups following the rule of social distancing. Before resuming classes, students will have to be categorised into five groups on the basis of their access to technology: those with 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. A student who has access to more than one mode of technology can use any one of his or her choice. It is reported that there are over two million students without access to technology in the country. Further, the local bodies are required to prepare separate lists of students enrolled in different schools, those out of school and those who attend classes in other parts of the country but who are now living in their local areas due to the pandemic. The local bodies will have to mobilise teachers and volunteers, if required, to conduct classes in small groups for students not having access to technology. When it comes to imparting education through the virtual medium, it will be the responsibility of the local bodies to ensure that teachers coordinate with their students before teaching classes through the virtual medium and students do homework after class. The government has prepared audio and audiovisual learning materials for school education. The local bodies can also prepare such learning materials based on the national curriculum framework developed by the Curriculum Development Centre. However, given a time constraint the local bodies can use the learning materials developed by the government. The government will act as a facilitator or coordinator and provide necessary resources to the local bodies. The government will also provide public schools with free internet facilities but such schools must have computers and broadband internet connection. Although it has been too late, all efforts should be geared towards saving this year’s academic session. If this year’s academic session goes to waste, there may be psychological effects not only on students but also on their parents/guardians. So all three tiers of the government should join forces to complete the academic session by imparting education to school students through any medium, virtual or physical.
Volunteer mobilisation Now, the local bodies are under pressure to make preparations to manage the resumption of classes. In the present situation, they are also working in the field of controlling the pandemic and helping out the victims of the pandemic. They also have administrative work to do. So they may be short of manpower and resources. As such, they should mobilise volunteers, if need be. While mobilising volunteers, they should preferably induct youth volunteers as they are energetic and can fulfill the responsibilities assigned to them satisfactorily. As the government has pledged any support, the local bodies can fall back on such support. After all, saving this year’s academic session is the prime concern for the government, schools, students and their parents/guardians, educationists and other stakeholders.
(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000)