The UNESCO reveals that 1.4 billion children worldwide have been severely impacted by the shutting down of educational institutions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Nepal have been closed since 19 March 2020. Several private schools and few government schools have resumed online classes. However, shifting to online classes is not easy in rural Nepal for lack of technological skill, internet access, and other necessary devices. This pandemic could be the perfect time for the country to make a major paradigm shift in its education system so as to reduce the acute educational gap between private and public schools all over country. \A formal Nepali education system officially started in 1951 when the country initiated its transformation from an absolute monarchy to a more representative political system. Since then, access to education has expanded significantly. The National Education System of 1971 has initiated massive reforms with updated and equitable education policies and upholding mandatory public basic education. Until 2016, there were 35,222 primary and secondary schools in Nepal. Widening educational opportunities is a preference of the government. The School Sector Development Plan of 2016 seeks to graduate Nepal “from the status of least developed country by 2022, through strengthening access and quality of education.” Needless to say, plenty of progress has been made over this time. A greater percentage of youths today have higher educational opportunities compared to their parents. As per the World Bank report, net enrollment rates in basic school education have increased from 66.3 per cent in 1999 to 97 per cent in 2016.
Falling investment But, the government’s investment in education has declined over the years. The portion of the national budget allocated to the education sector has seen a falling trend: 15.65 per cent in 2013/14, 13.92 per cent in 2014/15, 12.04 per cent in 2015/16, 11.09 per cent in 2016/17 and 9.90 per cent in 2017/2018. The government has allocated 10.68 per cent of its national budget to education this year which is a slight improvement. However, around 80 per cent of the total allocated budge is for salaries and administrative overhead. For the upcoming fiscal year, Rs 8.53 billion has been allocated for improving the quality of education for community schools, which is far too little to find effective alternative solutions to cope with the effects of the pandemic. As mentioned before, schools and educational institutions have been closed since 19 March 2020. Additionally, it has been predicted that they could remain closed for several more months until the spread of this virus comes to a halt. The government’s present challenge is to provide immediate and effectual solutions for continuation of academic activities and also to devise long-term alternative solutions. As a strategy to continue educational activities, the government has come up with several programmes, the most recent being broadcasting lessons from TV and radio stations. Experts are now asking how to increase the effectiveness and outreach of this strategy to the target group i.e. students. Recent research has shown that 88 per cent of families with school going students have access to cellphones, 26 per cent of families of school going students have access to radios and 8 per cent of households have access to computers and internet all over the country. These numbers scale higher in families whose children go to private schools, mostly in urban areas. The Ministry of Education has stated that in the field of science and technology, only 35 per cent of 35,601 (2074 B.S.) community schools have access to electricity. Similarly, 22 per cent of the private school students have internet facilities at home while the number is only 4 per cent in case of public school students. Around ten thousand schools have computer facilities but the full functionality of those computers is still in question. It is reported that 12 per cent of these schools have internet facilities. Evidently, it is challenging to ensure the access of students from the science and technology stream to internet-based education. It is even greater challenging in case of students in rural and remote parts of the nation. The government’s new strategies of promoting distant learning seem ineffective as the students’ access to radios and televisions is severely limited. Data reflects that families have cell phones but access to the internet in those cell phones is low. For online and distance learning, high-speed internet access is necessary, which is a major constraint for the majority of families. Students and parents are fearful of missing the entire academic year which would further widen the disparity between public and private schools and also schools of rural and urban areas. Nepal’s education system pertaining to the public schools often comes under scrutiny owing to the yawning gap between teaching and learning process. The key problem behind this criticism lies in the style of teaching. The teaching method of private schools is different from that of public ones based on geographical areas. The government has been trying hard to reduce this gap over the years and has adopted several strategies but the outcome is not much optimistic.
Opportunity The government should take the syllabi of two calendar years and merge it into a single-year accelerated syllabus, which includes core contents and values of both syllabi. This would save this calendar year by the syllabus being taught next year. Simultaneously a revised syllabus should be developed for every grade (which will be implemented after two years). This system would fit well with both public and private schools across all the geographical areas of the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced crisis can be converted into an opportunity to revise our education system, syllabus and teaching style. Till date we still focus on teaching what is in books and there is no space for creativity, reflection and context sensitivity. If our education system aims to produce creative and efficient human capital for tomorrow, it is the right time for change. This is the moment when we can design our syllabus where literature (text books) and creativity should be given equal weight so as to see positive changes in the school education system.