Online class amidst COVID-19 lockdown
This article presents an examination of teachers’ experiences and understanding of online learning amidst COVID-19 crisis in Nepal, pandemic impacts on education and future challenges of schooling. Open interviews with four teachers teaching their students investigated how they managed to teach few students on virtual classes and what complications they experienced when using digital tools to teach their students. Although the findings suggest possibilities of utilising various freely available ICT tools in teaching and learning particularly in urban areas, the majority of the students are unlikely to have such access in the rural area.
There is a pandemic crisis that has created a kind of terror almost all over the world. The terrifying situation (COVID-19 Pandemic) made all the human activities as water in a pond in general and educational activities in particular. The entire world is being ceased where all the human chores are also being postponed indefinitely. More than 210 countries including Nepal are severely affected by COVID-19 (Worldometer, 2020, April 13). The majority of them have a lockdown to control the pandemic and keep their citizens safe (Argenti, 2020, March 13). However, I have a question “is teaching and learning possible in such pandemic?” on my mind. This is perhaps a common question to teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders of schools and colleges across the world because the entire world has been affected by the COVID-19. Perhaps similar to the Poudel’s (2020) experiences of stress during the lockdown initiated on 23 March 2020 by the government of Nepal to prevent the spread of Corona-virus infections, many others might have gone through frustrations losing their jobs, regular earnings and social relations. In Nepal, almost all educational institutions are closed but some of the universities have been trying to develop online learning mechanism (Poudel, 2020). Several webinars during this pandemic have emphasised online mode of teaching and learning as an alternative to physical classroom teaching and learning. However, the majority of schools and universities have a lack of ICT infrastructure and have the majority of teachers with limited ICT skills.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis made me speculate some alternatives to teaching and learning where I experienced that there is a good future of online education. Similar to American schools following online learning (Bakia, Shear, & Toyama, 2012), I wish we had have minimum ICT infrastructure to switch our schools to the online mode of teaching and learning in Nepal. With this idea on my mind, I talked to my four participant teachers from various schools to get their views to a major question such as “what are the major prospects of online education in the context of Nepal to meet the needs in such a pandemic condition?” The following sections offer their experiences and understandings of online teaching and learning during this lockdown.
Online Education and its Effectiveness
Bakia, Shear, and Toyama (2012) have defined online learning as internet-based teaching and learning. In the teaching field, online education is the electronically supported learning that relies on the internet for teacher/student interaction and the distribution of class materials. One of the first institutions to use online learning for completely off-campus students was the British Open University (Bates, 2005). Bates (2005) further stated some of the terms that are being used in place of online class synonymously such as virtual, hybrid, blended, mixed-mode, and distributed teaching and learning. With the historical flows and meaning of virtual class in mind, we easily can predict some of its roles in teaching and learning.
In COVID- 19 pandemic crisis, people in the crisis of food are trying to grab opportunities of learning in virtual classes. In academia, it has multiple advantages. In the interview, teachers shared different views on the issue with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. For example, Mr A expressed that online learning is only one alternative during the lockdown, and it may be cost-effective and feasible. Likewise, Mr B emphasised a virtual class that it provides students with face-to-face learning opportunities without any risk of being affected by the Corona Virus, is cheaper than regular conventional school, allows students to work autonomously and meets students’ needs. His idea aligned with Crystal (2020) that virtual class does not require any physical classroom to conduct teaching and learning activities similar to the conventional schools. Similarly, Ms C shared that online teaching saves teachers’ time and also makes them less formal as they do not need to go to school and college. Similar to Underhill’s idea (2020, April 19), she presumed that teachers can teach by sitting in the kitchen or lounge if they have virtual class facilities. Mr D shared that teaching virtually makes students psychologically free from their learning burden by creating a kind positive as well as a motivating learning environment.
ICT infrastructure for eLearning
Interviews with participants investigated the need to develop ICT infrastructure and to prepare the workforce for the implementation of online teaching and learning in Nepal. For example, Mr A emphasised electronic devices (laptop, smart-phone, etc.) and internet to initiate online learning mechanism. However, Ms B argued that both teachers and students’ physical, psychological and social aspects need to be considered before thinking about virtual classes. Mr C and Mr D focused on the peaceful and calm environment along with computer technology and internet facility to effectively conduct online teaching and learning activities. However, all the participants involved in interviews argued that teachers need to have minimum knowledge and skills of computer technology and be literate to teach on virtual classes.
I believe that Phillips’ (2020) suggestion to consider students’ learning needs, the content and purpose of the lesson, technology and pedagogy and access to technology need to considered to implement internet-based teaching and learning. Moreover, teacher preparation and infrastructure development are the basics of adopting eLearning mechanism in schools.
Challenges with online education
Various posts on social media indicate that schools in Nepal are capable of adopting eLearning mechanism. I have observed many webinars where many educators have highly emphasised the use of internet facilities where possible and some raised issues. I believe that Nepal at its current situation having limited ICT infrastructure in schools may be unable to holistically switch conventional physical classroom to online. Nepal, an underdeveloped country, where the majority of schools have a lack of ICT infrastructure (Poudel, 2020), the majority of people particularly in rural areas have limited or no internet access (Rana, 2020) and teachers have limited or no ICT skills and knowledge, cannot adopt eLearning overnight and may need another decade or so to equip schools with ICT infrastructure and teachers with ICT skills.
With the challenges of virtual classes in mind, my participants shared their challenges that they encountered when teaching in online classes. For example, Mr A shared the challenge of online class management because of untrained students. Similarly, Mr B shared students’ expectation of physical classroom more than virtual class. His experience reminded me of Johnson’s (2017) idea that the virtual classroom cannot replace traditional classroom where students can have natural life to engage them with their friends. Likewise, Ms C shared similar challenges, as she said, “Spoon may not replace someone’s hand. Although he can feed himself with spoon, he may not get satisfaction as of hand feeding (हातले खाने बानी भाको मान्छेलाई चम्चाले खानु पर्यो भने खान त खान्छन् र पेट पनि भर्छन तर सन्तुष्टि हुदैन ।)”. She indicated that an online class is not a replacement of the physical classroom. Although online class can be an alternative to physical school during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, it may not be effective to teach life skills. Moreover, Rana’s (2020) argument such as the majority of teachers and students are outside the range of broadband internet is one of the major challenges to implement eLearning in Nepal. However, teachers can utilise a few potential technologies like television and radio to deliver limited courses and engage students in possible projects.
With long interaction with the participants, I came to know that online/virtual classes can be a complement to the physical classroom and an alternative during COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are some challenges such as limited or no internet particularly in rural areas, lack of trained teachers and lack of digital devices in the majority of schools and families which prevent to switch to online teaching and learning. Although online learning has potential, it may take decades to realise it in the context of Nepal. It suggests that future researches may report how both teachers and students have experienced the use of available ICT tools in their teaching and learning activities and how many teachers and students having no such access have gone through this pandemic.
Hiralal Kapar, an M. Phil student at School of Education, Kathmandu University, is a teacher of English. Mr. Kapar believes on THIRST of education to be successful in the educational world.
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Rana, K. (2020, April 20). E-learning is only a means but not a replacement of physical classroom. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/04/e-learning-is-only-a-means-but-not-a-replacement-of-physical-classroom-dr-rana/
Underhill, A. (2020, April 19). Kitchen table teaching; Affective teaching online. IAREFL Global Get-Together Day 2. An online Conference, UK. https://www.iatefl.org/iatefl-global-get-together-day-2
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Cite as: Kapar, H. (2020, July). Online class amidst COVID-19 Lockdown. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/07/online-class-amidst-covid-19-lockdown/