The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected every aspect of human life, including education. The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education system in human history. Social distancing and restrictive movement policies has significantly disturbed traditional educational practices. It has changed education for learners of all ages. Nepal has also suffered a lot due to the lack of adequate and appropriate sustainable infrastructure for the online system. In addition to this, the limited internet facilities in remote and rural areas were the other challenges for virtual academic activities. Many schools remained closed for a long time during the lockdown and some managed alternative ways of teaching. However, the teaching learning activities could not be made effective as expected. The impacts of the pandemic has directly affected the students, teachers and parents.
In the context of Nepal, many children from low income families and disadvantaged groups could not afford even the necessities of learning such as textbooks, notebooks and other required stationaries. Modern digital devices including smartphones, iPads, laptops, and computers were far from their expectations. On the other hand, the people in the remote and rural areas were deprived of online access due to limited internet facilities. In this context, providing equal opportunity for virtual learning to all groups of people in all the parts of the country was challenging. The online programmes shifted the education from schools to families and individuals. In some ways, educating children at home made the life of parents challenging. The school closures impacted not only students, teachers and families but had far-reaching economic and societal consequences. This closures in response to the pandemic shed light on various social and economic issues including students’ responsibility, digital learning, food security, homelessness, childcare, health care, housing, internet and disability services. The impact was more severe for disadvantaged children and their families, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems and consequent economic cost to families who could not work.
As per my experience, the institution where I work consists of students from different parts of the country. They come from different family backgrounds. When the government made an announcement of the school closure to prevent the spread of the pandemic, we did not have any idea of what to do. Later on, when the government issued a notice to resume the teaching learning activities virtually, it was very difficult for us to begin as we were not prepared for it. It was a challenging task for the teachers as well as the students. We did not have any exposure and special training to start the virtual mode of learning. The school provided a short training on how to use zoom app. Then, the teachers invited the students of their respective classes and guided them to use different digital applications. It took us about two weeks to get started. We conducted two periods a day which were of forty minutes each, as the trial version of zoom got disconnected after every forty minutes. In the beginning, the students were excited about the online classes. Many of them asked their parents to buy multimedia mobiles to attend online classes. As the parents were worried about the disconnected study of their children, they somehow managed to continue their study. It was not so easy for all the parents to buy new mobile and to pay for the mobile data. All the students did not join the classes as their parents could not manage mobiles and internet data. A few students were out of network access. They had to climb up a hill to take their classes. Later on, we increased the number of periods to four each day. But we found that the number of students gradually decreased after the second period and in the last period we could find only a few students attending the class. It was hard to manage the classes as there would be frequent problem of power-cut and the low bandwidth of the internet.
The students and the parents complained that they had to spend a lot of money on data and had to charge their mobiles every few hours. We fortnightly contacted the parents of the students to get feedback about online classes, especially the problems that their children were facing during the online classes. Many parents provided positive feedback, thanked teachers for continuing the teaching learning activities. Some complained that their children played mobile games throughout the day. They also requested us to counsel their children for not misusing mobile phones. We also conducted the interaction between the teachers and the parents virtually. We got mixed responses from the parents. Some of them explained that the online teaching was effective as their kids were being engaged at least for a few hours, while others said that it had not been effective as their kids did not have access to the online classes conducted by the school. We tried our best to explain to the parents that the teaching learning activity through virtual means was the continuation of learning. Instead of searching for perfection we had to support the virtual mode of teaching learning as it was totally new to everyone. We used to be obsessed with the behaviours and activities of some students as they did not respond when they were asked questions and they did not turn on their videos. It was very hard for us to find out whether the students were paying attention or not. It was really difficult to ensure the progress of those students.
Teachers in my school tried to find out the different techniques on how the participation of the students could be increased and how to make the students active in the class. Several extracurricular activities were also conducted virtually. The home assignments and project works were also assigned to the students. Later on, our school launched a systematic virtual learning application and we started teaching through this application. However, during conducting examination, we faced problems as many students got disconnected time and again due to the poor internet connectivity. It was a very tough time for the teacher like me because we had to prepare the materials for each and every class. E-learning tools played a crucial role during the pandemic by helping teachers facilitate teaching and learning. While adopting to the new changes, the readiness of teachers and students needed to be gauged and supported accordingly. The learners with fixed mindset found it difficult to adapt and adjust, whereas the learners with a growth mindset quickly adapted to the new learning environment. There was no one-size-fits-all pedagogy for online learning. Different subjects and age groups required different approaches to online learning. Therefore, it was not easy in the context of our country.
Despite the adverse effects posed by the pandemic, there were some positive impacts on academia. It has allowed reshaping the pedagogical strategies and adopt to innovative e-learning techniques. The schools and universities decided to introduce a digital education system which seemed to be one of the most outstanding achievements in the history of education in Nepal. The educational institutions as well as the learners used media such as TV, radio, YouTube and other social media. During the pandemic, teachers and students increased the digital literacy and expertise in virtual platforms. Many trainings were conducted for the teachers and students for the online system to join the virtual classes effectively. Many institutions expanded ICT infrastructures to support ICT associated with teaching learning. Many institutions prepared their guidelines for facilitating online classes and assessment under the direction of the government of Nepal. Schools also collaborated with local to national media such as Radios, TVs and local Radio networks. Many teachers who did not have any knowledge of ICT, also took the trainings and started using laptops and mobiles. They also learnt many techniques on preparing educational materials which helped them grow personally and professionally.
In conclusion, COVID-19 has taught many possible ways which can be adopted to tackle the crisis and build a resilient education system in the long run. This pandemic has taught us how the blended modes of education system could be implemented to improve the quality of education at an affordable cost with limited trained human resources. Furthermore, how different learning activities such as homework, assignments, open-book exams, take-home exams, quizzes or small projects can be taken into consideration as the alternatives of conventional paper-pencil based examinations.
Researcher’s Bio: Rajendra Joshi is an M. Ed. (English) from Tribhuvan University. He has more than a decade experience of teaching English from primary level to secondary level. Mr. Joshi has also published an article in the Journal of NELTA. He is currently working as an English teacher at Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya Teghari, Kailali and Shree Krishna Secondary School Gulariya, Kanchhanpur.