Government preparing to give formal education status to remote and virtual classesEducation experts, however, warn that a large number of children do not have mediums to access distance learning.
It has been five months since 11-year-old Sandeep Poudel has been cut off from teaching-learning activities. The seventh-grader at Deependra Home Jun Secondary School from Gadhawa Rural Municipality-4 in Dang does not have access to online study, nor is he aware that there are other learning platforms available for him.
“I study on my own whenever I feel like it,” said Poudel. His family doesn’t own a TV and nobody has informed him about the classes broadcast on a local radio station.
A local FM radio with financial support from the rural municipality has been broadcasting classes for five major subjects targeting the students from grade 4 to 10. The three-month radio programme sponsored by the local government ended on Sunday. Students like Sandeep never got to participate in these classes.
Ganesh Basnet, a mathematics teacher at Sandeep’s school, doubts the programme was beneficial. Basnet himself has been guiding the students around his locality in his free time.
“Classes run through radio and TV mediums are not interactive. There’s a one-way flow of information and the students may not grasp the lessons,” he said.
Fourteen-year-old Suraj Magar is an eighth-grader at Bhagwati Secondary School in Dhikura, Arghakhanchi. He, too, has not had a single day of lesson ever since the schools got closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though he has got the textbooks, which the government provides for free of cost, he hasn’t got the chance to learn from them so far.
Like Sandeep, Suraj has no idea about remote and virtual learning platforms.
“I don't know,” he replied when asked whether he had heard about remote classes.
He thinks that his classes will resume after his school starts.
Meanwhile, the federal government in Kathmandu is taking one decision after another regarding virtual learning apparently unbeknownst to the fact that millions of students like Sandeep and Suraj, who are based in rural parts of the country, cannot attend remote classrooms.
There are around 7 million students in the school system from pre-primary to grade 12 levels, studying in 36,000 public and public schools across the country.
After assessing that the resumption of schools and colleges was not possible immediately, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology had introduced a set of guidelines for virtual classes, set to come into force from June 16. The guidelines envision engaging students in the learning process online or through television and radio.
The ministry, however, had made it clear at the time that remote learning wouldn’t be counted as the formal schooling but just a means to engage students in the teaching-learning process.
But as the coronavirus infection continues to progress across the country, the ministry is considering giving formal education status to remote and virtual teaching-learning.
To this end, a meeting of the National Curriculum Development and Evaluation Council, led by Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel, on Thursday agreed to give a formal education status to education imparted through online and broadcast platforms.
“The formalisation process of the decision is the only thing pending, as there are few technical issues that need to be fixed,” Ganesh Bhattarai, director of the Curriculum Development Centre, told the Post.
Meanwhile, education experts have urged the government to authorise virtual and remote classrooms only after ascertaining the number of the students who were able to access virtual and remote classes in the past five months.
They say the ministry’s decision comes at a time when different reports suggest that a majority of school students don’t have access to either of three—online, television and radio—medium to take the classes.
“There is no uniformity even within the students from the same class. Some have studied through virtual medium while others haven’t,” Binaya Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University and an authority on school education, told the Post.
“There should be a proper plan to ensure those who have been left out from the study opportunities get to learn equal to those who have studied through the virtual medium,” said Kusiyait, who has done several research on school education.
A recent survey report by UNICEF Nepal also shows that more than two-thirds of the schoolchildren in Nepal are deprived of distance learning.
The Child and Family Tracker Survey carried out among 7,500 households also shows that the poorer the household, the less likely it is that children can access or will use distance learning. “The data shows that only five percent of children in the poorest households have access to and use distance learning,” reads the report.
With its reports suggesting a large number of students don’t have access to virtual learning, the UN body has urged the governments to prioritise the safe reopening for schools when they begin easing lockdown restrictions. “When reopening is not possible, UNICEF urges governments to incorporate compensatory learning for the lost instructional time into school continuity and reopening plans,” reads the report.
The Nepal government hasn’t done any study to suggest what percent of students have missed the virtual class.
Bhattarai, the director of the Curriculum Development Centre, however, said they are aware that large numbers of students have been left out of the teaching-learning process during the lockdown. “We are devising separate interventions for such students. One could be organising additional classes for them when the schools resume,” he said.