For Kiran, a part-time social studies high-school teacher in Kathmandu, the past few months have really been boring. After a gap of nearly two years, he again has to wake up in the wee hours, study for an hour, have a quick breakfast and leave home as early as other family members are not even awake.
“The past two years were fun in a way thanks to the online education practices. You could teach all the classes from the comfort of your bed,” Kiran, who does not want to be identified by his second name here, complains, “But, it didn’t last long.”
Kiran thinks schools and colleges in Nepal, at least in Kathmandu and other urban centres, should adopt online education as a norm now as it is already proven possible. “Further, it’s easy for both teachers and students. On the institutional side, it reduces the cost,” he says, “What made you drop the online education system again?”
The Covid outbreak in early 2020 affected almost every sector in Nepal. It made people change their lifestyles. It changed the way of working in every sector. The education sector also moved online with most academic institutions from different parts of the country hosting virtual classes. They also conducted the exams and ECAs online, triggering people like Kiran to feel the way they do today.
Consequently, there have been some discussions on making online education the regular method of teaching rather than the occasional one. Educationists and stakeholders are positive about the proposal but stress some reforms are essential.
Prospects of the new pedagogy
Educationist and former head of the Department of Education at Tribhuvan University, Bidya Nath Koirala, is positive about the proposal of making online education a norm for educational institutions.
“We must immediately launch the online classes on a regular basis. The new generation is well literate with technology, and the online classes can be an effective method for them to make things understandable,” says Koirala.
“Online education technology can give the students access to the global context.”
Koirala, nonetheless, believes to make the virtual classes effective, the teachers should mainly focus on their teaching methodology. They should avoid the lecture method that is implemented during physical classes.
He urges the teachers to explore the features on the virtual platforms that would make the classes productive and effective. Koirala also has seen teachers who have run the online classes effectively. Those teachers are well known and well literate on the ways to make the virtual classes productive.
People complain course structures that Nepal has been practising are not online-friendly, but Koirala contradicts it. He says, “It is up to the teachers to make the existing courses online-friendly.”
It is true that online education does not have a long history in Nepal. But, thanks to Covid, you cannot argue that it is completely new and the society is not friendly to it.
Moreover, the oldest university in the country, Tribhuvan University started conducting online classes in 2015, informs Ganga Ram Gautam, the chief of the Open and Distance Education Centre at the TU.
Even before the pandemic, the university used to run some classes under two programmes virtually: master in English and master in mathematics. Post-pandemic, it has been expanded to over 15 programmes regularly.
The online classes at TU run either every day or once or twice a week, depending on the course and syllabus.
According to Gautam, virtual classes are progressive and productive, but there are yet two main challenges.
“There are still many students and teachers who are not friendly with technology and virtual methods,” says Gautam. “Likewise, in many parts of the country, there is no proper broadband connection which is depriving many students of online education.”
The notion of blended pedagogy
Educationist Laxman Gnawali, also the chairperson of the School Management Committee at Kathmandu University, also agrees with Koirala regarding the operation of online classes.
Moreover, he talks about blended pedagogy to address the concerns raised by Gautam.
“The students should be involved in both online and physical classes,” says Gnawali. “Since the online classes alone cannot all address all the courses, the physical classes also should be conducted in parallel.”
Blended classes ease the learning activities, he adds.
Furthermore, Gnawali urges the concerned bodies to provide training to teachers and students to make them well-literate about online classes. He wants both the students and teachers to be friendly with features that are available on virtual platforms.
“Students and teachers both should know about the features of virtual platforms that are concerned with animation, video, interactive quizzes and all other features that would make the online education systems vibrant and productive, says Gnawali.
With that, he also advises the concerned authority to work on the development of IT infrastructure and make all the needy students access the learning devices.
It means teachers like Kiran can hope for their wishes to come true in the next few years.