COVID-19 has been one of the critical human crises ever recorded after Plague of Justinian (541-542), the Black Death (1346-53), Spanish flu (1818-1819), Asian flu (1957-1958), HIV/ AIDS (2005) and Swine Flu (2009). Following the advice of WHO about maintaining physical distance to control the possible spread of the virus, the government of Nepal had announced the nation-wide lock down, and the four-month long lockdown has been recently waived though the educational institutions seem to shut down for some more weeks. During the ongoing crisis, the venture taken by some of the proactive teachers to continue teaching-learning activity to the extent possible for them and to engage themselves in continuous professional development is appreciable.
It was, undoubtedly painful for me to be detached from my students and the classroom for a long time. However, what made me satisfied was the constant contact with the students and colleagues via different digital means. Although the online classes were not as effective as the physical classes in the beginning, they remained a useful alternative to practise teaching-learning activity during the lockdown period. So, in this article, I have attempted to explore the ground reality of teaching learning from a survey and critically reflect on my teaching-learning and professional development practices including my feelings during the lockdown.
Digital divide deteriorating teaching-learning activity
Problem with the technology more or less exists in every nook and cranny of the world but the digital divide in our context seems bigger. For example, Sharma (2020) reports that only 8% of households and 12% of total schools have broadband internet facility in Nepal. Although 90% of the population use mobile phones, the majority of them do not have the internet facility. Similarly, Rana, Greenwood and Fox‐Turnbull (2019) show that only 72% of the total population of Nepal have the internet access and the majority of them (95%) are mobile data users, and mobile data is too expensive to use for educational purpose. Moreover, the urban dwellers have better access to the internet facility (not in the reach of all though). Indeed, this kind of disparity is present in the online classes that I have been taking at present, where there is the presence of less than 50% students. The condition is even worse in the case of the rural part of Nepal, which is waiting for the development of the internet infrastructures and access to web technology.
Professional development in the crisis
Although teachers are not physically present in the classrooms, some of the active teachers are busy taking the online classes or continuing teaching-learning via other alternative means. On the other hand, during the lockdown period, various national and international organisations were active in organising e-conferences and webinars for teachers’ professional development. I also participated in some of the webinars organised by Cambridge University Press, Webinar Series: British Council and NELTA, Continuous Proficiency Development Institute (CPDI), Thailand and TESOL Virtual Convention and English Language Expo 2020.
Having got opportunities to participate in these webinars and conferences, I was acquainted with new trends and ideas of English language teaching. So, they proved to be highly insightful for me to gain and share new knowledge and skills. I have used the learnt knowledge and skills in making the lessons interactive while teaching in the online environment. Moreover, I also utilised the crisis for creative writing and reflections, and also used them in my online classes to encourage my students to compose creative writing. History shows that there has always been the emergence of new literary figures and a new field to work with by the established figures due to the situation created during and post crises. So, as a teacher, we can encourage and support our students to express their emotions, feelings and experiences through creative writing or other forms of arts, which can help them to release their tensions and have a sense of achievement in the form of creation.
Teaching-learning practice during the crisis
Exploring the ground reality
Like other teachers, I always enjoy having students around me, but the ongoing health crisis caused havoc in teaching-learning activity with the temporary closure of the educational institutions globally, where Nepal couldn’t be exception. Some of the schools in Nepal, especially in the urban setting, have run the online classes by using different digital apps where there is internet facility and parents are capable enough to manage basic technologies for online classes. However, student participation in such online classes are observed low.
It is commonly reported that there is less student participation in the online classes and the delivery of lesson also has not been as effective as the face-to-face mode. Therefore, I wanted to understand if other teachers have similar problems. I conducted a survey by using the Google form about teaching-learning activity during the pandemic, where 48 teachers participated. The data showed that the majority of teachers faced the problem of low students’ participation. Additionally, some other problems mentioned by them were related to technology and learning environment like unstable or lack of the internet access, frequent power cut and learners’ unfavourable learning environment at home. Likewise, lack of apt digital contents were reported as another challenge. Similarly, challenges were reported on students’ involvement and learning facilitation like lack of students’ attention, disturbances at the students’ end, low participation in English course and lack of student-centred activities. In addition, the teachers also reported to have challenges in assessment including the lack of immediate feedback to students.
The responses of this brief survey indicate that online teaching cannot replace the physical classroom in Nepal immediately as there exist major challenges like technological preparedness, online pedagogical innovation, lack of digital contents and assessment. In such situation, the government in collaboration with public and private sector should come up with immediate strategies to reach students and also should envision to bridge the digital gaps in future.
Facing the crisis as a teacher following alternative ways
While some of us are taking initiative to run online classes to the limited number of students having with access to the stable internet and digital devices, Dawadi, Giri and Simkhada (2020) argue there exists a huge challenge to give equitable access to e-learning to all the students in Nepal and a swift move to e-learning will further widen the disparity gaps, depriving a large number of students from inclusion. This study, therefore, indicates that we need to adopt different modalities to reach to different students based on the means of connection they have. For instance, we can provide offline materials to students having mobile phones and computers without the internet connection. On the other hand, for the students having neither the internet nor the digital devices, we should reach via radios and televisions as some of the teachers have already taken this initiative. For example, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and local bodies are telecasting and broadcasting educational programmes via radios and TVs though people are skeptical about the effectiveness of such teaching-learning. On the other hand, to reach the students of difficult topography, we should deliver the print materials in coordination with local government. Moreover, teachers can also reach them and engage in teaching-learning by maintaining physical distance in their own locality.
Crisis and some food for thought on our practices
The present health catastrophe, I believe, is questioning our education system and has compelled us to rethink the way we are delivering public services like education and health. Our existing education system emphasises more on competition, i.e. producing a successful person is getting priority over helping a person become a good human being. With the same token, society gives value to the rich and this has led them to achieve more power. The existing gap between the rich and the poor is constantly increasing, which is visible during the crisis, where the poor suffered the most and the marginalised and minority people were much more affected. Education and health services are highly dominated by the private sector, which were already out of the access of the working-class people, seemed more unwelcoming during the crisis for many private hospitals denied treating the patients suffering from the corona virus. This was the failure of the present neoliberal society which emphasise privatisation, marketisation, and deregulation in various services including education and health sectors diminishing the nation’s role in these sectors of fundamental necessities.
Similar to English proverb “there is a silver lining in every black cloud”, I also tried to make the best ultilisation of the time I had in the crisis. I first focused on my professional development, especially ways to teach students online effectively. Then, I have been using the new knowledge, ideas and skills I gained from it in my own online classes. Now, my students in the online classes are no more passive listeners but the active co-participants of the teaching-learning activity. I use Easy Class and Google Classroom to manage my online classes. Likewise, to make the online lessons interactive, I use various digital apps and tools, such as online quiz using quizizz, Kahoot, ProProfs, Mentimeter, interactive videos using playposit and padlet to ensure learners’ participation in the online class and Google forms for feedback and for online test. After lockdown, I am confident that I am going to make visible changes in the lesson delivery in the physical class and the blended mode of teaching and evaluation. Moreover, I feel that the crisis in general has taught us an important lesson that Nepal also should envision alternative ways of teaching-learning by using various digital technologies.
Pushpa Raj Paudel, an M. Phil scholar at Nepal Open University, is a faculty in Sainik Mahavidyalaya, Bhaktapur. Mr. Paudel has interests in creative writing, teachers’ professional development, critical pedagogy and translation. Mr. Paudel, a life member of NELTA, has presented papers in various national and international conferences and webinars, and has published articles in various magazines and newspapers.
Dawadi, S., Giri, R. A., & Simkhada, P. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector in Nepal: Challenges and coping strategies. Sage Submissions. Preprint. doi:https://doi.org/10.31124/advance.12344336.v1
Rana, K., Greenwood, J., & Fox‐Turnbull, W. (2019). Implementation of Nepal’s education policy in ICT: Examining current practice through an ecological model. The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, 86(2), 1-16. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/isd2.12118
Sharma, L. (2020 May 09; retrieved 2020 June 7). Online education increases disparity [translated from Nepali to English]. Nayapatrika. https://jhannaya.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/970/2020-05-09
WHO (2020). WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. https://covid19.who.int/
Cite as: Paudel, P. R. (2020, July). Crisis, teaching-learning via alternative means and ground reality. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/07/crisis-teaching-learning-via-alternative-means-and-ground-reality/