School registrations for the new academic session would have started on Tuesday, had there not been a lockdown. The second day of the Nepalese calendar marks the start of the new academic year in Nepal.
However, as the country applies the lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19, it is uncertain when schools will begin their teaching-learning activities. The lockdown that began on March 22 has been extended until April 27 after the increase in coronavirus cases.
Amid the uncertainty, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has formed a team of experts to suggest ways to launch online education in academic institutions, from school level to university level. The panel headed by former minister Ganesh Sah is also responsible for reviewing the academic calendar, as academic institutions are closed, and developing the e-learning modality.
The ministry has already allocated Rs 70 million to start preparations for online education across the country. About seven million students from 36,000 schools and around half a million university levels have been denied education due to the lockdown.
Sah said they had already prepared a broader framework for starting online learning in schools and colleges. He said they assessed that online learning can be introduced at university level without delay and that it can be started in some schools with immediate effect.
A report by the Nepal Telecom Authority shows that over 72% of Nepalese have access to the internet, but the majority of them rely on mobile data, and only 17% of them have access to fixed broadband. Accessing online courses via mobile internet is expensive, which few can afford.
âWe cannot immediately switch to online courses,â Binaya Kusiyait, an education expert, told the Post. âIt will take at least three to four years if we start investing in it now. “
He said that while it is true that the country should embrace e-learning, Nepal lacks the infrastructure to get started immediately. Besides the problem of internet connectivity, even teachers are not used to the technology, he said.
Currently, only 1,000 of the country’s 29,000 public schools have computers with broadband connectivity.
Operators of private schools also state that it is not possible at this stage to organize full-fledged online courses. They say that even though students have access to online study, it will take time for them to engage in online learning. “We can start the trial now, but starting a full-fledged study is not possible now,” Ritu Raj Sapkota, president of the National Association of Private Schools and Boarding Schools in Nepal, told the Post.
He said parents have an important role in times of crisis in teaching their children life skills. In Sapkota’s opinion, it won’t be too late even if the academic session starts two months later, but students must continue to engage in learning.
âThere is a lot that students can learn beyond the curriculum. Now is the right time to identify them, âsaid Sapkota. The government requires teaching and learning to last 220 days in a school year. School operators say they can meet the requirement, even if the session begins in June, by cutting back on holiday holidays and the like.
Kusiyait suggests that the government transfer the unspent development budget for the current fiscal year to the development of infrastructure for the education sector so that the country can gradually switch to e-learning. He says the government can opt for zoning zones in case the lockdown is extended due to the threat of Covid-19. And the authority should be given to each local government to resume academic activities according to their feasibility.
Sah said the current crisis has led to the realization that online education is the future and that enough investment is needed right now. âAlong with the federal government, provincial and local governments should come forward to embrace technology-based teaching-learning,â he said.