A Discussion of Hope and Truth during the Lockdown
May 15, 2020
By Shansa Basnet | May 14, 2020
In ordinary times, students would head towards their schools and start a new academic session. Other students would graduate from their secondary schools, highschools, and universities and step in a completely different phase of their lives.
But at this point, times are not normal like before.
Some schools in the cities have replaced the structures of their classes with virtual classes by using social applications which have given rise in distance learning. However, the pandemic also showed that the education sector in Nepal is still learning to deal with this new and unprecedented situation like COVID-19. Despite the proliferation of data communication, Nepal’s baby steps revealed the unpreparedness of schools and teachers towards distance learning especially in the community schools of the country.
Due to such digital differences amongst cities and villages, Teach For Nepal conducted its first virtual discussion, Shikshya Manthan, where the truth and hope for public schools in the time of crisis were discussed. The panelists of the discussion, Dr. Kedar Bhakta Mathema, Dr. Meenakshi Dahal, Janak Raj Sapkota, and Rabi Karmacharya, Aaagat Awasthi, presented their perspectives and possibilities of learning for students in public schools during the lockdown.
Dr. Kedar Bhakta Mathema, the former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University and one of the TFN leadership board members, explained that the disparity between private and public schools was evident for a very long time but it was never paid enough attention.
“The situation is different now but the battle is against the education inequity like before and we cannot let the students studying in villages lag behind other privileged children,” he says. He explains, “Observing and reading articles we may have to face the threat of COVID-19 for many years, we need to learn from the enforcement made by other developed countries because the educational inequity among children might diminish their sense of responsibility towards the country and its society in the near future.”
However, during the time of crisis, the basic requirement of some children and their families would not be acquiring education. Some of them are living from hand to mouth, so accessing the internet for virtual classes seems like a futile exercise.
Aagat Awasthi, program coordinator at UNESCO, realized that distance learning does not only refer to e-learning. He says, “Maybe this is the time we need to redefine education and question ourselves if education only means going to schools and universities to study rather than parents can communicate with their children and teach them soft skills like weaving or even working in the fields.” He adds, “Distance learning could be through any medium such as television and radio which do not require the internet.”
The number of profoundly increasing cases of COVID-19 and future possibilities of the surge in Nepal mentioned by Janak Raj Sapkota, sub-editor of Kantipur publication, during the discussion does not reveal the risk of citizens’ physical as well as mental health. He added, "Though the students are in a place of uncertainty where they have lost connections with their teachers which has hampered their daily routine, the pandemic has as well allowed all the parents with some opportunities because all of them are on the same boat with responsibilities to connect with their children being their friends and teachers at the same time."
Dr. Meenakshi Dahal, an education expert of Early Childhood Development, thinks that it is high time that parents showcase and prove their children that they can be their pals and educators. “Parents must be able to distinguish between the teaching and learning process of children,” she says. “Children should be encouraged to have their voice and they should be listened to by their parents which helps to develop them socially, psychologically, and emotionally.”
However, children must be academically active despite the constraints caused due to the lockdown. Since the education system of Nepal highly focuses on textbooks and the conventional teaching process which is why student and teacher interaction matter the most.
But is advertising e-learning only enough to compensate for the lack of availability, accessibility, and affordability?
Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director of Open Learning Exchange Nepal, says that e-learning would only be successful if the users (students) from public schools can access to the internet at a low cost or no cost.
“This can only be possible if we can take technological development and implement policies at the local level,” he explains. “Teachers do not need training but they require help and new initiatives from local authorities.”
- Rabi Karmacharya
There are multiple unanswered questions as to how we move forward during the global emergency. With discussions like Shikshya Manthan, we are exploring new possibilities to pave the road ahead. The ‘Manthan’ ended with a hopeful note that the new structure of learning adopted by schools should not draw a line between haves and haves not of public and private schools on quality education. The interaction that lasted for about two hours between the panelists and other 250 participants gave explorations to new ideas and cleared out some of the obscure answers and questions.