Let’s Begin with Data
According to a UNESCO report, 1.6 billion children across 191 countries have been severely impacted by the temporary closure of the educational institutions. In order to mitigate the impact, educational institutions have responded to the closure differently in different contexts with a range of options for students, teachers, managers, and parents, depending on the resources, both materials and human, available to them.
As the consequence of the lockdowns, schools, and universities in Nepal have been temporarily closed for more than two months now. As of the second week of May 2020, UNESCO (2020) estimates that nearly nine million (8,796,624) students in Nepal are affected due to school/university closures in response to the pandemic.
With the risk of coronavirus infection, there is a growing trend of e-learning in technologically advanced countries. So, online learning has is considered an effective way of learning in Nepal among the affluent and privileged students. Online education is dependent on technological facilities, including internet and Wi-Fi, the discrepancies that exist in their availability are widening the gaps in access and quality of education.
The present scenarios indicate that students in Nepal are affected differently by the pandemic. For instance, a few schools and colleges in urban areas have started to run online classes to mitigate the impact on learning. However, running online classes does not seem to be feasible for most rural schools in Nepal. It is estimated that only 56% people in Nepal have access to internet.
How has COVID-19 impacted?
Getting deeper on the affects of gap in education in children Burgess and Sievertsen (2020) argue that, “Going to school is the best public policy tool available to raise skills. While school time can be fun and can raise social skills and social awareness, from an economic point of view the primary point of being in school is that it increases a child’s ability. Even a relatively short time in school does this; even a relatively short period of missed school will have consequences for skill growth.” So, the impact of prolonged closure of schools and colleges will have an adverse effect on child development.
After returning to school and college routines, there will be so much pressure on teachers and students to recover from all the time lost, i.e., teachers will have limited time to cover several topics in their curriculum and students might feel pressured to learn so much within a short- time.
While on the one hand the pandemic has had crippling effects on this sector. It has created a great deal of uncertainties on Nepali students enrolled or aspiring to enroll in overseas universities as they have now been barred from leaving for these countries.
The Covid-19 has also increased the risk of increasing the dropout rates. First, many parents have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and their economic crisis has worsened than ever before. Parents from rural localities may be reluctant to send their children back to school because they may prefer their children to continue to support them in farming and livestock herding. Second, Nepal’s economy is largely dependent on foreign employment. Indeed, a large number of families in Nepal depend on the remittances but this pandemic has badly affected abroad jobs forcing people to lose their jobs and return to Nepal. This situation might also lead to higher drop-out rate in Nepal. The COVID-19 pandemic has a serious impact on health and wellbeing of young people. It is likely that mental health problems are increasing, and many more children have become a victim of domestic violence.
Furthermore, some children are getting addicted to social media and digital devices. All of these might have indirect effect on their learning. In addition, it is likely that many students come back to school, when schools reopen, with more problems associated with their families.
Government’s Response To The Issue
With the government recently have announced educational institutions to remain suspended for a while more, this sector will take time to get to its regular pace of learning.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) has submitted a report to the Supreme Court stating that online classes for grades 9 and 10 will be conducted 6 days a week through NTV Plus. The Nepalese government has just started to run a few classes on radio and television, but all students cannot get access to such lessons as 20% people in Nepal have no access to radio and television.
We could also learn from countries without adequate infrastructure that have coped with the education gap by turning to traditional technologies, such as radio and TV, as a means to compensate for the loss. For instance, in South American countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, where access to internet and internet connectivity is a major issue, the respective ministries have used a combination of new (mobile, digital) and traditional technologies to deliver lessons and resources from a single, coordinated national education portal for students, teachers,managers and parents. Radio, television, YouTube channels, recorded lessons and digital educational resources/materials on-demand are combined together to provide lessons to students who do not have reliable access to the internet (IAU 2020).
External assessments such as board exams of SEE have been cancelled and the result of these students will depend upon their previous internal assessments. In addition, NEB reports that the annual examination of grade 11 have been cancelled as well however grade 12 will be attending exams regularly as per the sources.
Can Online Learning Be An Alternative To Traditional Education?
Online learning allows students to study 24/7 and work at their own pace. Given the uncertainty and less possibility of a vaccine for COVID-19 to be available in the next couple of years for a developing country like Nepal, this is a good time to transform the traditional education system to a more digital one and equip our teaching faculties. Nepal could adopt the online learning system as other countries in the world and accept a competitive education system. It is crucial to accept the change and mould the decisions as per the situation.
Furthermore, WHO has recently pointed out that the Covid-19 may never be eradicated; people will have to live with it. As a response to such an event, countries now plan to introduce an element of distance learning even in normal education. The approaches may include adjustments to the academic calendar, prioritizing students in grade preparing for high-stakes examinations, and continuing with distance learning in parallel to schools.
However, Studies have suggested that virtual/online learning will probably never be an alternative to face-to-facé learning particularly in the school contexts, as there are social and effective elements (essential ingredients of overall development) of learning absent in such a system, and therefore, it will perhaps never be a parallel education system. Despite the odds, the education in the 21st century will increasingly embrace online/virtual classrooms.
Thus, there are many challenges such as mental and overall health of children, the career options available to the students, the disparity of technological resources among students from different background that must be coped to provide a good platform for learning further. If proper actions are not taken on time, the whole education system will be stagnant or even collapse.
What are your thoughts on education gap of students in Nepal? We hope we have provided you with enough information to about the current as well as the possible scenario of education of Nepal.