Possibility of distance education in Nepal
Er. Manish Thapa
Every sector is impacted by COVID-19. Transportation is completely closed. Small to large scale businesses are closed. Health Institutions have limited treatment procedures to emergency cases only. Media have limited themselves to online media and reduced or stopped print papers. Government and non-government offices are closed. Even the internet we are using has slowed down due to increased users. Unsurprisingly, this is the same case all over the world.
Among others, education sector has been the most impacted sector. All government and private institutions are closed. Many have started online classes but not all.
In the past, schools/colleges were closed by few days of bandhs and chakka jams. Classes used to run behind academic schedule. After the re-opening of classes, teachers used to teach at metro train-like-speed to complete the course within the academic schedule. That used to hamper students’ learning ability and teachers’ teaching ability. And that used to happen even when the classes were closed for just a week. This time, it has already been a month that academic institutions are closed.
In this pandemic situation, few colleges and universities have adopted online mode of learning. School of Education, Kathmandu University is among the few that has adopted the same. Adoption of distance learning does not have long history in Nepal. Like in other sectors, learning through online mode has also its own share of opportunities and challenges. Here, I have tried to reflect those (major ones) based on my experience after attending three weeks of classes at Kathmandu University.
In the current context, not all students across the country have access to high speed and uninterrupted internet facilities. People are taking service from internet service providers or buying internet packages from NTC/Ncell. None of them guarantee smooth operating internet facilities. Packages from NTC/Ncell supply decent quality of internet facility but these are short term and costlier in comparison to regular internet services. One of the students shared with the writer that he has spent already more than Rs. 3,000 for data package during lockdown for official meetings and classes. In country like ours, it’s way too expensive.
In reality, there are thousands of students who don’t have a laptop and are still dependent on either friend’s computer or cybercafes for report writing or for computer required activities. Based on this experience, taking classes through mobile phones may serve the purpose but they are not effective at all.
Online classes significantly limit the interaction between students. Without much interaction, teaching-learning mode becomes monotonous.
Classes become effective if there is more interaction and discussion. During regular classes, students often interact and discuss with students or teachers on a topic. Online classes significantly limit the interaction between students. Without much interaction, teaching-learning mode becomes monotonous. At the same time, students may not get adequate time to be clear on taught courses.
Observation and Change in teaching modality:
In regular classes, the lecturer can closely observe student’s behavioral aspect and can understand whether the courses are being understood and acknowledged by student or not. Based on observation, lecturers tend to change their teaching modality instantly. But in case of distance learning, the aspect of close observation of students’ behavior is of distant possibility that further limits the potentiality of application of diverse teaching-learning modality.
Practical and group exercises:
In case of many technical courses, it requires a lot of practical and exercises. Online classes limit the possibility of doing exercises and group activities. Theory-based course can be easily delivered but that is not the same for courses requiring group activities, demonstrations and practical activities.
People after completing +2 level are compelled to migrate to urban areas for quality higher studies. Also, many people need to wait for years to come to Kathmandu and enroll in their course of choice. Talking about myself, I needed to wait for more than four years to pursue M. Phil. course as I was out of Kathmandu Valley. Had there any opportunities of academic course through online mode, thousands of students could have easily enrolled in courses of their choice from any part of the country. This helps to continue learning without having break, which helps to have better learning ability.
Income for institutions:
There lies the high possibility of enrollment, if there is good promotion, proven and effective delivery of courses. Not only inside the country but also students from any part of the world can inquire and enroll. With an increased enrollment and increased number of students, educational institutions’ incomes are increased. Now, countries like the US, the UK and Australia are known for countries with greater revenue generation from academic institutions. If there lies the potentiality of attracting student from abroad, Nepal can generate revenue from academic institutions i.e. from enrollment of foreign students.
Time, Cost, Energy and Concentration:
In the last 10 years, the number of students who are also enrolled in a job has drastically increased. With increasing inflation rate and the competitive market, it does not seem, the number of lower down in coming days. For people who are enrolled in a job and academic courses, they get it difficult in terms of time management. Either job-class or class-job, their life becomes hectic and tedious. Because of requirement of travel in between, energy is drained and that affect their learning ability. If there is facility of online mode, student do not need to rush for classes. This saves time, helps to keep them fresh and energetic. Similarly, when there are regular classes, administrative cost goes higher either it be furniture, infrastructures, and staffs. Applying online mode can reduce cost for both student as well as academic institution.
Participation and review lectures:
As we have seen quite often, not all students get easy to interact in classroom. There will always be some 30-40 percent of students who interact often while other take part in less frequent manner. Because of personality issue or hesitancy or speech anxiety or some other issues, the participation of student is quite uneven. Online mode helps student to express their queries and understanding through writing mode. Also, while in classes, there is tendency to get confused about terms or relate the theory with practical aspects. While being online, student can simultaneously listen to lecturers, and upon confusion can search in Google, understand the meaning/concept, and relate to practicality. It increases understanding ability of student that cannot be said in terms of regular classes.
Future of distance learning
Everything has its own opportunities and challenges. COVID-19 has taught many things in every sector. Though, there were talks about the need of online learning mode in academic courses in last decade or so, none of them led to any conclusion. But COVID-19 forced academic institutions and regulatory bodies to think about the online learning mode as well. While few adopted online learning for temporary manner during COVID-19, majority are still reluctant to think and adopt it.
Can distance learning be replicated and converted into regular learning mode? Looking at current experiences and learnings, it seems challenging. However, the opportunities of distance learning can not be neglected. It requires greater coordination, expertise, initial investment and commitment from academic institutions as well as regulatory bodies. Being a student with few weeks of experience continuing job and classes simultaneously, I see the online learning mode making significant impact in all aspects i.e. student’s career, reputation of academic institutions and economy of country.
The writer is an MPhil student at Department of Development Education, School of Education, Kathmandu University and has years of experience in the education sector.
Published on 26 April 2020