By Er. Manish Thapa
As of 10 April, starting from Wuhan, China in December of 2019, the population of all countries (except three namely Ecuador from Africa and Tajikistan and Turkmenistan from Asia) have been affected by COVID-19. Based on Johns Hopkins, a total of 1,612,646 confirmed cases, 96,787 (6%) deaths and 361,377 (22%) recovered cases have been reported. In the case of Nepal, 9 confirmed cases, 1 recovered and 8 active cases have been reported (as of 10 April 2020).
In the last century alone, there were multiple situations of the pandemic such as 1918 influenza pandemic, 1968 flu pandemic, 2006 H5N1, and 2014 Ebola outbreak taking millions of human lives across the globe. After the outbreak on December 31, 2019 from Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has travelled across the globe already affecting millions of populations with no sign of stopping soon. Not only human casualties, but also every single sector has been hardly affected by COVID-19.
Impact of COVID-19 on Education Sector
Normally, in epidemic or pandemic cases, the education sector has been the one to be affected first and most. As the COVID-19 transfers from person-person, almost all educational institutions across the globe have temporarily closed its classes with no confirmation regarding re-opening dates in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As per the UNESCO report, COVID-19 has affected 1,576,021,818 young learners constituting 91.3% of the total enrolled learners (pre-primary to tertiary education levels). In Nepal alone, 8,796,624 students have been affected.
Response from Government of Nepal
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, the Government of Nepal has taken precautionary measures by requesting the academic institutions to re-schedule their examination and complete regular school exams before or by the first week of Chaitra. When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the government took some strong measures such as the complete lockdown of the country which is currently in the third week. Examinations such as SEE and HSEB examination (+2 level) and graduate level (TU) examination have been postponed. Since, the schools were scheduled to be closed after completion of SEE, COVID-19 outbreak has not affected the regular curricula like that in other countries. However, the students to appear on SEE (total 482219 students, MoE, March 25) and +2 examinations and academic curriculum of bachelor and higher degrees across the country are among the group to be mostly affected. To increase awareness about COVID-19, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has developed and broadcasted Public Service Announcement (PSA) materials focusing on COVID-19 in Nepali and Maithali language. Furthermore, Guideline and Minimum Standard to follow for the use of the schools as a location for quarantine has been developed and circulated among other Government bodies and schools across the country.
Inclusion of Information, Communication and Technology in Education Sector
For a country like Nepal, though the use of technology is not at an advanced stage like that in countries such as USA, UK, Australia or other Asian/European Countries. However, seeds have already been rowed through the inclusion of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) in the education sector in Government implemented programs such as Education for All program (2000-2015), School Safety Reform Programme (2009-2016) and School Safety Development Plan (2016/17-2022/23). Academic Institutions such as Kathmandu University, Ace Institute of Management, King’s College has already adopted distance classes. The government has been producing and broadcasting the teaching class for the students of Grade IX and X through NTV. Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) and university authorities also have started discussions and consultations with concerned stakeholders for initiation of e-learning in coming days. As shared by Mr. Baikuntha Aryal, Joint Secretary, MOEST, “Government of Nepal has already formed the committee under the leadership of VC, NOU which will look after the research and recommend on the possibility of management of online material and other virtual medium as an alternative to respond the COVID-19 impact on education.”
Initiation of Distance Learning by Academic Institutions
For countries from developed as well as developing countries, continuation of teaching-learning has been the challenging yet prioritized task during COVID-19 pandemic. As per the GEM Report (25 March), distance learning approach has been adopted as an alternative to classroom-based teaching-learning approach. Looking at the current scenario, teachers and school administrators were encouraged to use applications to deliver education session viz application of tools such as zoom, moodle, google meet, skype, slack, canvas, etc. Based on his experience, Ayush Rai, an M. Phil student at the Kathmandu University, says, “The virtual classes that KU has been organizing are very helpful. As we can support the regular classes and keep up with the semester schedule, the interactions with the professors are also regular.”
Prakriti Gautam, an MBA student at the Ace Institute of Management said “Despite the fact that COVID-19 has brought disturbance in our day to day life, it certainly has brought some great relief in the life of people who are working and also pursuing academic courses at the same time. Virtual classes have made my life very easy; the hassle of commuting, getting ready just for getting to college somehow has reduced.”
Challenges and Opportunities
According to Docebo (2016), “Nepal ranked 6th out of the 122 countries tracked by Ambient Insight Research for self-paced E-learning”. Though distance learning for academic degree could be the new venture to look at, it has its own demerit in cases of countries like Nepal, that is the lack of availability and accessibility of smooth internet facilities with good bandwidth across the country. According to the Nepal Telecom (2019), 63% of Nepal’s population has internet connection, of which 79% of them are reliant on mobile phones, mostly limited to urban areas. Most of the rural areas still lack high speed 3G, 4G and other broadband services. On top of that, academic institutions especially public institutions have found difficulty in adopting updated technologies to implement technology-based teaching-learning system even with huge investment and promotion from the government of Nepal.
Agreeing with the complexity of distance learning at academic degree, Prachanda Man Pradhan, Ph. D., Associate Professor, Kathmandu University shared, “Looking at the current prospect of Nepal from availability of infrastructure (availability of digital devices, internet facility, strength of bandwidth) at home or school/universities and existing teaching-learning approaches (requiring interaction between student-teacher, mandatory attendance, mixed approach in terms of theory and practice) adoption of distance or online learning could be the challenging task.”
At the same time, he shared the possibility of application of distance learning depending on the nature of the degree. If the courses are more of the theoretical in nature, distance learning can be applied. Whereas for the course that requires practical exercises and rigorous discussion among teacher-student, distance learning can only be a supplementary act.
Looking at the national circumstances, emerging needs and technological progress, distance learning could be a challenging yet possible task. The reflection and learning from the experience of distance learning during COVID-19 and any prior experiences can be used to replicate at wider level upon adequate reflection, discussion, consultation, and policy-level interventions. Though fair access is the major concern to dealt with, the underlying opportunities and ongoing experiences should not be neglected in the global context of rapidly increasing adoption of technology in teaching-learning practice and initiation of distance classes in foreseeable future.
(Writer is the student of M. Phil at Department of Development Education, Kathmandu University, School of Education)
Photo: New Business Age