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Engaging students in online classes during lockdown: A teacher’s experience

Many countries of the world have switched on virtual teaching-learning practice as the alternative approach to education during the Covid-19 crisis. However, in the context of Nepal, online teaching seems only a means, not an end.

The world has not experienced such a long disruption of school closures in history. According to the recent report of the United Nations, this pandemic has badly affected the world’s education system as more than 1.60 billion students from pre-primary to higher education levels in more than 200 countries have been stuck at home for months due to the lockdown.

In the context of Nepal, when the Nepal government announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24, educational institutions, academic activities, and examinations have been adjourned as teaching-learning cannot take place inside the physical classrooms with the fear of virus transmission. Even after the end of lockdown on July 21, the numbers of new cases and deaths are continuously increasing. Consequently, many places in the countries are completely sealed off to prevent the outbreak. The schools, colleges, and universities have been completely closed; many schools and campus buildings are still used for quarantine management, from which many students are directly disadvantaged from education.

At the beginning of the lockdown, all the educational stakeholders were confused about the teaching-learning approaches for emergencies. Some confusion still persists as no one is certain when the physical classroom activities resume. Considering such a crisis, the Nepal government has also permitted teaching students virtually using different online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

Unicef reports that more than 73% countries and institutions of 127 countries in the world have been using online platforms and more than 75% of the surveyed are using television to deliver remote learning for education at the global pandemic. Many community and private schools in Nepal have embraced the virtual education system through various online platforms as one of the approaches for the continuation of the learning process in this pandemic. The practice of online teaching seems urban-centred, incorporating only the students having internet access.

Photo: Creazilla

Shree Pokhariya Secondary School of Biratnagar, Morang initiated online classes from June 19 by using Zoom including less than half of the total students of basic and secondary levels. As I have been virtually teaching English to the students of the secondary level for two months, recently, I also surveyed class nine students to understand their perception about online classes.

To the question regarding their opinion about online classes, one of the students replied, “Reading with the new model of teaching during the pandemic is very fascinating for me because my learning is continued through the online classes with no risk of Covid-19. However, I find less interaction among teachers and students and more technological challenges in online classes.”

Similarly, another student answered, “In my opinion, online classes are not an effective way for learning in Nepal as many students are far from internet facilities and not aware of this type of class. But, I am enjoining virtual teaching because I have experienced online class for the first time in my life.” A girl from the same class replied, “I am enjoying the online classes because I get the opportunity to learn among 200 participants which is almost impossible in a face-to-face class.

Some other representative voices of the students are:

  • No, I am not enjoying the online class because of the internet issue. I feel bored, without concentration, to sit in front of the laptop for a long time. We can understand lessons more properly in the face-to-face classes than in the online classes.
  • There are many challenges in an online class, so it is useful only during the lockdown. It is conducted only about an hour for two subjects every day, which is not enough for us as we read about six hours in school.

From the students’ views, I came to know that online classes have assisted as an alternative strategy in the teaching-learning process to ensure urban students’ participation in academic activities. It is useful only for those having access to internet facilities, mobile phones or computer devices. However, it could not replace the physical teaching-learning situation. Most of the students have articulated their happiness to join online classes in the pandemic as a good learning opportunity, but all of them preferred the physical classes in terms of their active classroom participation, mutual interaction with teachers and friends, effectiveness and clarity in the learning contents. The students are interested to adopt the new technologies to accomplish the expected goals of learning in the current situation.  

New practices in any field can bring challenges to a new culture. The coronavirus pandemic poses acculturation effects to the technological assimilation in teaching-learning as we are switching from classroom culture to virtual teaching-learning culture. From my experience, I found the following questions in my mind while planning and preparing the lessons for my students: 

  • Can I address the lesson goals through virtual modes of teaching?
  • How can I engage learners actively in the learning process?
  • Is this an authentic and reliable source of content delivery?
  • Can I support to all the learners remotely?
  • How can I include unreachable students in the learning process?
  • Can I evaluate students’ online learning achievement?

It seems hard to find answers to such questions as the unified national framework and guidelines for virtual teaching and evaluation have not been developed yet. The lack of resources and infrastructure for virtual teaching, teachers’ and students’ knowledge gap in the digital platforms, challenges to adjust the curriculum goals and test-taking parameters through online based teaching-learning stand as the major challenges of online teaching in the context of Nepal.

Hence, virtual teaching as a system to manage the teaching-learning environment through web-based platforms has been considered as a transformative strategy to engage the learners through didactic and reflexive pedagogies with a sense of cooperation and collaboration.

The online teaching process is the opportunity to redefine the education system during this pandemic. It can be used alternatively to address the learning vulnerabilities of many children and youth and to support students at risk during the crisis as it elaborates the ideas of a virtual environment, virtual teacher, virtual student and a new framework of the curriculum associated with the national educational policy.

Furthermore, the Nepal government, educational stakeholders, and concerned authorities need to respond as soon as possible to ensure students’ continuous learning spaces with safety measures. This is the high time to plan and design equal learning modalities for all students throughout the country certifying the appropriate methods of evaluation. All teachers are responsible for applying plenty of resources to introduce new learning modalities accessible to our students.

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Parajuli is an MPhil scholar at National Open University.

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