Reduction of school curriculum by 30 percent but only seven months of academic calendar remainMany schools are still unclear on how to reach out to all the students in one of the five prescribed teaching methods and virtual learning remains a challenge.
As the academic year has been cut short with schools unable to run classes since the country went into the lockdown on March 24, the government has reduced the prescribed study hours and curriculum at the school level for the current academic session by around 30 percent with an aim to wrap up the current academic session by April.
Students from grade 1 to 3 will have 690 hours of classes in total while students from grades 4 to 10 will be 848 hours, according to the Curriculum Adjustment Framework prepared by the Curriculum Development Centre.
As per government rules, at least 1,024 hours of classes need to be conducted in 190 days per academic year under normal circumstances.
“The curriculum was adjusted by the experts after evaluating the remaining time. The revised curriculum fits the remaining time we have for the current academic session,” said Ganesh Bhattarai, director at the Curriculum Development Centre.
“The pandemic has led to the reduction in the learning hours,” reads a paragraph from the framework. “Even when face-to-face learning is possible, the adjustment of the curriculum is necessary to complete the current academic session in the remaining time.”
The course was reduced on three basis formulated by UNESCO, namely, integration, which is about merging the similar contents; clusterisation, teaching the contents of the same genre simultaneously; and prioritisation, where teachers leave up to students to self study the contents of lesser importance, according to Bhattarai.
Tika Puri, chairperson of the Private and Boarding Schools’ Association Nepal, said there was an agreement to remove the texts that are not studied in the higher grade. For instance, if grade seven students study proportion in Mathematics but that is not studied in eighth grade it would be removed for this year.
There are seven months in hand for the current academic session including the festive season when teaching-learning activities are stopped for around a month.
The new academic session normally begins in mid-April (Baisakh 2) and ends next April (Chaitra). However, all schools and colleges have remained shut since March 18, around a week before the country went into a full lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teachers associations, private schools operators and the guardians while agreeing that reduction of the learning time and curriculum was necessary due to the pandemic, are skeptical if the 70 percent of the curriculum can be covered in the remaining time.
They say the government is still not clear how schools will reach out to students.
“Over half of the students are away from the reach of virtual learning. Can teachers reach those students?” Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the Guardian’s Federation, Nepal, told the Post.
The government opened the door for virtual learning starting June 15. However, it was not recognised as part formal schooling, but only a medium to engage the students in the learning activities.
The Curriculum Adjustment Framework now authenticates study from five different modalities—face-to-face in small groups, through radio, through television, online study and off-line study—- starting September 17.
A recent report by UNICEF showed three out of ten students do not have access to any of the virtual teaching-learning mediums.
Bhandari said the Ministry of Education is still lacking a plan to engage every child in the teaching-learning process.
“The government in the beginning of the current academic session must have authorised the school management committees or the local governments to design plans to reach out to the students adopting safety measures,” he said.
But it was only on September 10 that the government issued a directive making local governments responsible for managing the teaching-learning activities at school level using virtual medium, or by bringing students and teachers together in small groups.
The directive endorsed by the Ministry of Education tasks the local level to first categorise the students in five different groups based on their access to learning platforms and then provide them with the learning opportunities accordingly.
The local governments say the federal government passed on the responsibilities to them after it failed to manage the teaching-learning activities on its own.
“The government data shows at least six districts don’t have active Covid-19 cases for the last few weeks. I wonder what is stopping the government to allow them to run the face-to-face classes adopting proper safety measures,” said Bhandari.
He said around 10,000 of 36,000 schools have a maximum of 50 students while around 4,000 of them have less than 25 students. “Why not run the face-to-face classes in these schools?” he said.
The private schools operators say some compromise is inevitable at the time of crisis and reducing the curriculum and the teaching-learning time was necessary. They say completing the 70 percent course wouldn’t be a problem for the schools in cities that are connected to their students online.
“The schools in cities and towns will manage in the remaining time. The problem would be with those from the rural areas. The government should come up with a clear programme to address them,” said Puri.
Representatives of teachers’ association say it was necessary to reduce the curriculum in accordance with the available time. They say it is possible to complete the 70 percent of the content in the remaining time, given that all the students are connected to one of the five modalities of the teaching the government has prescribed.
“We believe the academic session should end by April so that we can have a normal session next year,” Baburam Thapa, president of Nepal Teachers Federation, told the Post. “The real challenge is to bring every child in the teaching-learning process.”