Education under Covid-19Who knows, e-classrooms and homeschooling could be the shape of things to come.
A handful of people may have seen a pandemic coming, but little did the world know that a virus would impact everything and everyone to this extent. It has turned the entire world upside down. From health to food systems, to the economy, to mobility, to social connections, all aspects around us have suffered unimaginably. Obviously, education wouldn’t remain unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most countries have rightly closed all educational institutions. Undoubtedly, policymakers are facing a dilemma between keeping educational institutions closed to minimise the risk of the virus spreading, and opening these institutions to not disrupt the academic session. It is also been an eye-opening experience for the Nepali schools and colleges who were not prepared to close their classrooms, and in many cases, start distant learning. The lockdown has not only seen interruption in their key assessments with many exams postponed, and in some cases, cancelled; but has also questioned the capacity of Nepali educational institutions to continue students’ learning under these circumstances. It is high time for such institutions to start looking into the future of education and take relevant steps towards it.
On the positive side, some parts of the world have been recovering slowly from the pandemic. Schools in China have started to reopen for senior students. Similarly, schools in Germany are likely to reopen with social distancing rules and reduced schedules. North Korea and New Zealand are on the same path of recovery. But it is highly unlikely that Nepali schools and colleges will be able to follow anytime soon, simply because not all institutions are ready to handle large crowds in the same spaces, thanks to poor infrastructure and crowded classrooms. Not to forget the lack of testing capacity that has kept the number relatively low in Nepal. It wouldn’t be surprising if a student spreads it to hundreds of his friends if schools are haphazardly opened, and then the number multiples exponentially.
UNESCO recently reported that national closures have impacted 80 percent of the world’s student population. As a consequence, many schools and colleges have found an alternative in distance learning depending on available technology and digital platforms. Despite the closures of schools and colleges, online platforms have surely made the whole process easier for some institutions as they continue to run classes and engage with their students. Institutions have turned to digital applications like Zoom and Google Meet that are offering the exchange of information. In Japan, some private sector companies are offering online courses to children for free during this lockdown through a government digital platform that allows children to select courses that they want to study. Perhaps this could also be an option for Nepali institutions.
The difficult part of the transition from physical interaction to digital mediums of education is that not all schools are equally able to provide distance learning. Many Nepali families have no access to stable internet and lack electronic devices for their children to carry out school work. As a result, it is near to impossible to conduct distance learning in a full-fledged manner because institutions shouldn’t be opting to leave the have-nots behind and only cater to the haves of society. Is there a way to ensure that all the families have access to stable internet? Is there a plan in place to be distributing educational devices like laptops or tablets to those who do not have them? Is there a plan from the institutions to support students who struggle in school or in certain subjects? Unless some of these key questions have an answer, it will be difficult to ensure an accessible digital transition.
The role of parents in children’s education is crucial, especially in Nepal where the educational disparity is massive. Reviving the concept that started back in the 1500s in the German states of Gotha and Thuringia, homeschooling can be an appropriate direction in the current scenario. It would especially be interesting to see how parents can assume their new role as a teacher. Nepali parents can start teaching children about daily household chores such as cleaning, cooking, washing and repairing, which can be a good way to begin the homeschooling process. (Remember, the children are learning by doing, a key component missing in the educational system.)
Spending time with children, meditating together, helping them with their mathematical equations, revisiting family history and reading them stories can create a strong bonding between parents and children. Recent generations of Nepali students have lost the teaching-learning process from families and the lockdown situation can serve as a way to reignite the process once again for good. While this might not be the best homeschooling experience with pedagogical limitations among the parents, it will still present an opportunity to explore new interests and skills in their children.
The schools and colleges that have picked up technology as their solution to tackle this unprecedented crisis should remember to create an equitable and accessible process for all. In the name of continuing education, under no circumstances should the indigent part of our society be left behind, and educational institutions should ensure this. The current pandemic, though a horrible situation to be in, still presents opportunities to empower parents as teachers and may reveal that children can be educated without actually being schooled.
With this sudden transition from physical classrooms to e-classrooms and even homeschooling, one might question if these alternative means of learning will continue even after physical classrooms reopen. The coronavirus has just given us a glimpse of how everything can change in the blink of an eye, and similarly, how education could evolve. Educational institutions may never be the same again once we go back to normal, but only time will tell us about the impacts on worldwide education.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.