Learning curvesDoubts persist over the efficacy of the government’s ambitious alternative learning model.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in his address to over 50 lakh students on Monday announced a highly ambitious but crucial plan to adopt an alternative model for uninterrupted learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. As schools will arguably be the last institutions to open once the pandemic is over, the alternative model is a welcome initiative. Aimed at temporarily anchoring students to the education system sans the burden of grades, the model could form a template for a more permanent revamp of the system as well. As such, PM Oli hinted, albeit in passing, at the possibility of scrapping the SEE altogether as it has already run its course.
The alternative model, based on the idea of open and distance learning, includes providing: printed materials to those without any access to technology; audio materials to those with access to radio; audio-visual materials to those with access to television; offline materials to those with access to a computer without internet; and online materials to those access to the internet. The Department of Education (DOE) has already listed, among other things, links to study materials as well as time tables for various learning programmes to be aired on the electronic media. If implemented properly, the plan can turn the current adversity into an opportunity to transform our teaching-learning practices. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
It will be a herculean task to organise the students across the country under five neat categories on the basis of their access—or lack thereof—to different forms of technology. The model may not translate into real learning opportunities for students with varying degrees of access even within the same school, locality, or local level. On his part, PM Oli did acknowledge that the reach of technology is not the same everywhere and that the capacities of learning are not the same for everyone. But he stopped short of elaborating on the efforts made towards ensuring that the model does not turn into yet another mode of discrimination.
The guideline for the alternative learning model, prepared by the DOE, rightly puts the onus of guiding the students through the learning process on provinces, local levels, media and communication channels, private sector, schools, teachers and parents. Local levels, schools and teachers are required to set up community-level learning platforms if students do not have individual access to audio-visual mediums and the internet. But as they struggle to contain the pandemic, there is no guarantee that the provinces and the local levels will take the additional burden of implementing the new model.Rather than elaborating on plans to address such discrepancies, Oli in his address went on an overdrive explaining our ancestors’ aptitude in science and technology and his expectation that the upcoming generation becomes more ‘humane, patriot and gentle’. What’s more, he spent the better part of his 11-minute address convincing the youth against participating in protests. In mixing politics and pseudoscience with education, which was unwarranted and unbecoming of his position, PM Oli lost a chance to assure the youth that his alternative learning model doesn’t turn into just another guff or gaffe.