Author: Akhil Karn

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in every sphere of our lives and education is not out of it. With schools shut across the world, millions of children have had to adapt to new types of learning. This resulted in the largest “online movement” in the history of education. The whole world has witnessed a paradigm shift in its teaching-learning-assessment process recently. Nepal, an underdeveloped nation, is no exception. For instance, in Nepal, irrespective of grades, teachers have started teaching online despite several challenges. I have tailored some of the practical issues I have encountered during the lock-down period as a learning opportunity for professional development.

In this regard, I can share my experience. I have been conducting classes for science on ZOOM since June 2020 for my students. I have been taking four classes per week. I keep myself busy in learning and applying ICT tools and applications. I am completely engaged in creating PowerPoint presentations, videos and slides.

For two weeks, I did not even register that there was a complete lockdown. I worked 12 hours a day to teach myself online learning management systems (LMS). I tried Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and any other tools I could find for virtual teaching. I found Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams better suited for synchronous learning whereas Google classroom, E-mail, Facebook, Viber were better as asynchronous tools for communication. I faced some major challenges in terms of data storage (online/cloud data and offline device storage) as well as internet connectivity problems. As our school did not have much funding, I could not use paid software which might have been more effective. For the first time in my life, I learnt about the word domain in technology.

Willingness to communicate online
After overcoming the initial teething troubles related to technology and the new mode of teaching, I have time to explore new ideas and use them in my teaching and to train a few of my colleagues as well. I have motivated students to embrace this new teaching-learning situation. Another huge challenge that I faced was the flipped pedagogy where I had to prepare teaching materials based on the curriculum but narrowing down the broad curricular concepts into teachable fragments. At this very point I realized that the traditional lesson planning is not completely okay with distance learning.

Digital segregation
Most of the students in the under-developed and developing countries lack technical support such as reliable internet, affordable mobile device, adequate mobile data or a Wi-Fi connection to join virtual classes. The teachers working in low-resource schools are not able to contact their students. Digital divide is a serious issue in education in a country like Nepal. While the schools are exploring alternative approaches to learning, it is important to assess whether such approaches (mainly online teaching) could exacerbate unequal participation in learning activities and access to knowledge. Our government has also encouraged going online to continue the teaching-learning process during the pandemic. As per the government directives, the primary and secondary teachers of government schools use Nepal Television and many others TV channels as a platform to teach virtually. The TV channels announce the schedule of classes on different subjects before the live session so that students can learn whether or not the class lesson is relevant to their level of study. So, it’s important to get it right and make sure that no group of students is left behind in the process.

Dual Characteristics of Government
Problems keep recurring as the government has not been able to come up with a clear idea in time to solve the problems related to the education sector. The problem regarding conduction of SEE exam and evaluation of students have been completely overlooked. Apart from this, government schools have been turned into quarantines and many of the private ones do not have the resources. The Government should have given appropriate guidance on the modality of online classes. The irreverence directive of government not to charge nominal amount of fee in the name of online class have put the livelihood of 2 lakhs teachers at stake.. Teachers from privately owned schools haven’t been paid for months but the teachers from government run schools are getting full pay which shows the dual policy of government.

Educational Institutions for Profit Only
As Nepal prioritizes privatization in the name of economic liberalism, many distortions have emerged in the health and education sectors as well. The mafia system seen in private hospitals and medical education that shut down health services without any sense of responsibility towards their businesses and citizens during the Corona epidemic has also raised questions about the quality of Nepal’s education sector. Banks and insurance companies are not allowed to register as private companies as they are directly related to the people whereas the institutions that trains children, the future of the country, like schools are allowed as private sector to operate for profit. This has proven fatal for the larger education sector. As a result, news about school administrators’ influence on the curriculum, selection of textbooks, and publication of examination results have been published from time to time. Organizations operating for profit should not be ruthless towards their employees when they are closed for a short period of time or are in trouble. The main duty of such organizations is to provide relief to the employees in case of crisis even by raising money from accumulated profit or other sources.

In the current COVID pandemic, Institutional schools (privately funded schools), which are unresponsive to the teaching staff, seem to be bargaining with the government only for the benefit of the investors and keeping the students and parents in the dark. Due to the tendency to seek only rights and forget about duties, school administrators seem to be focused only on maximizing profit. Trying to meet the demand by forcing the teaching staff to take compulsory unpaid leave and stop teaching and learning activities is very unjust.
If digital tools are used as a catalyst to remove the urban-rural disparity and to put all the students on equal footing, then distance or institution won’t matter. Moreover, in a third world country like Nepal, face-to-face education is considered as a reliable medium of learning the current situation can be a good opportunity to change its typical  lecture-based classrooms into a collaborative online classroom. So, it is necessary to train the teachers and at the same time motivate them morally, financially, and emotionally as they are the key players to implement the process.

COVID-19 has stagnated the whole world, but it has allowed us to think about the transformation of our education system for the future.

Mr. Karn has been teaching Mathematics and Science at schools of Kathmandu valley.

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