Covid-19 has shown its impact worldwide in all the sectors including education where most of our children’s future is being compromised. For a brief amount of time, parents thought this was another holiday break for children and would sway away quickly but many did not understand the meaning of pandemic and how quickly we have seen the devastation this has brought into our lives.
Alongside other sectors school sector did adopt alternative means of teaching and learning; most popularly known as ‘remote learning’ or ‘virtual learning’ has now been started in some schools. This is the second year of the pandemic but ‘have all the schools been able to adopt this remote teaching and learning environment across all schools in Nepal?’
Private schools being funded by their investors are quick to adopt to these new pedagogical changes as they have the right infrastructure and the desired funds. In the other hand, there are more than thirty-three thousand government schools across Nepal who rely on funds provided by the Ministry of Education. Every year the budget is allocated to the education sector and out of that a nominal amount of fund is separated to support the management and daily operational expenses of these government schools. The pandemic is no exception to government or private schools. No doubt all schools have taken equal hit from this crisis, but it is clearly observed that all state schools having inadequate resources and facilities have taken a bigger blow in their educational delivery. The government initially used most of the state school’s infrastructure to set up isolation centres and children were studying at home unknown when to return to classroom settings. Just when things started to normalize, the second wave again halted the education and students are at the home once again with no or limited access to their classrooms.
Schools quickly needed to adopt to these changes kicking off their crisis management plan that will help continue their classes and meet curricular requirements. Government schools are currently far behind to embrace these new changes with their limited infrastructure and support system. This is where we wonder and ask, ‘Weren’t there any crisis management plan in the first place in all tiers of government?’. Something to record into the lessons learnt log of the Ministry of Education.
Schools are currently operating but with a model that provides homework or activities to the children for a week and during weekends or fortnightly, their work is collected by the teachers to evaluate their learning. Parents have also been requested to support learning at home. A good start and definitely a good way to engage with children but without adequate virtual teaching and engagements with students, only weekly homework will not suffice in covering all syllabus. Are parents trained to support children’s education at home? Many countries around the globe have adopted home schooling approaches which is increasing rapidly. Home schooling has not been a popular choice in Nepal. With thousands of hindrances and teachers not being able to complete their curriculum and with no home support system, will the children learn adequately to establish a good knowledge base? This is not a question to the teachers but is laid for all the parents out there who should think this through.
Across Nepal, we have seen only few government schools who have managed to adopt to remote teaching settings but have still not been able to address teaching all their students. At this stage, is it possible to still proclaim that government has been able to provide access to education? What about quality in education at these difficult times? Or is this another compromise just like the health system in Nepal which arguably has collapsed. The School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) of the Ministry of Education for the period from 2016 to 2023 has ensured plans for equitable access to quality education. Although the government claims to have provided access to education throughout Nepal, the pandemic is asking us to rethink this. Another policy to address these needs should be considered and listed on the top of all other educational priorities.
There are many NGOs and donor organizations working to support the Government of Nepal’s SSDP priorities. Organizations like UNICEF are currently working towards community based Early Childhood Education (ECE) and parenting education. British Council Nepal on the other hand is working to develop Digital literacy curriculum for the Center of Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD) and as well as developing core skills for school teachers which has been supporting the teacher’s professional development. Besides NGOs and organizations existing in this industry, there could lie a possibility to support schools through cross sectoral investments approach. Big corporate houses could sponsor at least two government schools with infrastructures with their CSR funds. Private crème de la crème schools could support at least one government school at these dire times by sharing resources and the Ministry of Education must come up immediately with ways to incentivize or address these current situational needs of all schools across the country.
How long after failing would parents realize their child education is compromised? How will those children reimburse their time that goes with their ages? How long should we wait before we realize the students have passed classes just for the sake of certificates while knowledge is being compromised at all levels. Further to all those, where is the quality assurance in this sector to vouch for the quality of teaching in remote delivery settings? Are we just grading students to save their year? if yes, who will be accountable if we are compromising their knowledge? We need to rethink our approaches to access at first and importantly administer quality at the same time. Let us be reminded that schools are opened to impart knowledge and not certificates. Let us join hands and act in all strategic ways to support the current system in any ways feasible. There is no time to fail and restart; time is not reimbursable.
– Gaurab Sharma