The virus, Sars-cov-2 till date has claimed the lives of lakhs of people around the globe and the number of infections have been increasing with no sign of slowing down. It is not a new fact that this virus has affected each and every sector of the nations causing massive economic fallouts,public health crisis,inequity and insecurity over life hence giving birth to a global pandemonium. Amidst the pandemic, all sectors of an economy are affected among which education is one.
Data shows more than 60%of the world's student population has been affected by covid 19 causing all the education institutions to shut down in 146 countries around the globe. This has caused a pause in the formal education process affecting the academic minds psychologically and socially. In response to the pandemic, different countries came up with disparate strategies regarding education to make it as feasible as possible. In the process, digital learning stood out as the most reliable strategy. While the well developed countries are technology friendly and are sustained in most of the sectors so, the ideated digital learning strategies might be less complicated but the institutions in developing and least developed countries still rely on the pedagogy of traditional teaching method. With the outbreak of the virus, there is no doubt that the traditional paradigm of education system will be of any use until the outbreak is decimated completely. Therefore, in the peripheral and semi peripheral countries the policy of digital learning seems challenging to commence.
In context of Nepal, although some institutions in the urban areas have resumed the classes via online video conferencing platform such as Zoom, Skype however the rural sector still struggles for basic amenities of academic life . Despite the pandemic, the students are enrolled in regular classes, provided home assignments, whereas, for the students in the rural areas having access to internet is a very big deal on itself. With the mere 58.59% of internet client density of Nepal, that too skewed in the urban areas and the rural areas lagging behind, this disparity presents the dystopian state of education process that has existed prior to the pandemonium, showing unequal distribution of resources in terms of technologies and facilities. The pandemic has only exhibited the true state of education system in Nepal.
Although Nepal launched its formal education process in the year 1853 B.S by the name of Durbar High School,it was accessible only for the elites of the oligarch”s family. Apart from them, education was an unaffordable dream, restricted and a subject of crime for others. Although the scenario of current education system is meliorated than the history but it's undeniable that the roots of our education system is based on class and caste hierarchy. Moving a decade further, despite having huge budget allocation in education sector alone and strategic plans made over the years, we can still encounter the drawbacks of numerous variables (capable human resource, infrastructures required, lack of improvised reading materials,non-discriminative environment on the basis of race, caste, ethnicity, gender , disability etc).
The fact that among the 29,707public schools only 8,366 schools have computers and 3,676 schools among them have internet access which is roughly 12%,(Economic survey) questions the implementability of governmental plans over the years. Given that topographical diversity of Nepal serves as a hindrance, but the fact that the government has been investing on the education system since 1971 has not shown any significant results yet. While the students in rural areas are still struggling to study without all the aforementioned variables prior to the outbreak, so, the narrative that the reading materials and other infrastructures to be considered the barrier for learning/ teaching during the pandemic does not seem to be justifiable.
In the current context, the government has derived various strategies for resuming classes through Dish Home Network and private institutions opting for digital learning, however,not everyone has been benefited by such decisions especially students belonging to rural areas and daily wage earners families. Although the efforts look overwhelming and are palpable, it has its own matter of course. While electricity is still a luxury in most of the places, the internet based learning is not less than a myth. In most of the rural places, the internet is accessible only through mobile data and mobile data has a very high per unit cost which makes learning through it very uneconomical.
Moreover, the decision of executing classes through Dish Home Network has its own share of aftermath. Not everyone owns a television and even though one has, they might be unwilling to share it given the opportunity to learn solely rather than in a group. It is even more difficult if a student comes from the so-called untouchable caste. Although the statistics of Ministry of Education of Nepal shows a positive school enrollment data of dalit school goers with more numbers of females than males, it remains a challenge to the government of Nepal, to maintain the same enrollment rate during the ongoing crisis. A country where the caste system is deeply rooted it's hard to deny the fact that these so-called untouchables groups are the ones who are more vulnerable and the most affected. In this calamitous situation where the government's protocol of digital classes is in the premier list, has emerged haphazardly without eyeing the accessibility, infrastructures availability, social exclusion of the dalits and racism faced so forth. The repercussions of the decision of digital learning may be none in the urban areas, but in context of rural areas and dalit, it comes with a price of social exclusion,economic inferiority and also stigmitization of covid 19 as well.
This very difference between the vulnerable and the privileged, rural and urban thus makes the gap between haves and haves not even more lucid which already existed way before the pandemic hit us. One factor that increased this gap even more is the profit motive nature of private institutions of urban areas and the carteling that exists along with it. Organizations such as PABSON have been very effective in creating pressure on the government for opening of schools and earn profits as soon as possible, whereby the institutions of rural areas still are in dilemma regarding provision of basic materials such as books. And this is not a new phenomenon rather a senesce and ongoing one which is now a distinct national issue.
As per the budget for fiscal year 2077/78, about 171.71 billion has been allocated for the ministry of education which is 7.96 billion more than that of the last year budget. The increase in allocation of budget does not mean much if the implementing capacity lacks and this has been a huge hindrance for Nepal when it comes to implementing budget. It's not unenviable for the government to embed electricity and launch internet access in rural areas. So the budget regarding every infrastructure falls under the government's locus of control. Hence, keeping the ongoing pandemic in mind one should be very thoughtful to spend what amount of stake where it actually is needed..
As setting electricity can take a time , the government can bring forth the idea which is inclusive in nature. The Ministry of Education can slightly shift their attention towards coping with the psychological and mental health of students as of now rather than pressuring them towards digital learning which in fact is a herculean task for the government itself in less privileged areas. Government can also make learning possible through radio programs which fortunately have already been initiated in a few parts of the nation, since it is economical, affordable and also accessible with or without electricity
Now being little sceptical, is government making private school centered policies given that there is a vivid gap regarding the quality of education, resource availability, preference to english language and extracurricular activities giving further rise to the class difference. A uniform education policy for both government and private schools does not ensure equity to the latter and the decision in itself is not justifiable. Is this educational deprivation new-sprung or does it already exists? Did our education policy fail because of inadequate preparedness or because of the hasty decision of commercializing the education sector with unequal distribution of resources, schools focused mostly in urban sectors with high fees along with rising competition amongst themselves. Hence, government should develop an inclusive education policy that with equitable allocation of resources, allocating budget for research and development with the provision of mandatory training to be provided to teachers at rural sectors regarding technology usage, new school of thoughts on pedagogy and most importantly emphasizing on a culture that goes beyond caste, gender, race. Also, the concepts of new public management could be introduced and applied in education sector as well.
The ineptitude of government in implementing budget should not come as an excuse now for it has been 60 years that plans for upliftment of this sector have been made. This no longer looks like impotence rather a formal obligation to allocate the budget every year apart from some programs such as EGRP which have proven quite fruitful. The campaign of One School, One Game Teacher unveiled by the recent budget seems extravagant in the sense that the basic necessities of the students in rural areas such as gender based toilets, safe drinking water, nutritious food etc have been neglected. Also, post covid 19 outbreak, the government must make a strategy to appoint a psychological counselor or to train the existing teachers in order to facilitate traumatized students and make them resilient. Henceforth government should also direct local government to develop policies to prevent the dropout rates and build enthusiasm in students. So, instead of haphazardly making budget allocations, the government could concentrate in a specific sector rather than dispersing.
The aforementioned opinions and quora isn't defamatory in respect to any existing private educative sector but it is to be sceptical towards governmental plans which lacks an egalitarian view . So the article depicts that,the issues or problems of not having access to the resources and good infrastructures is not new but the fact is that it did already exist ,the only thing that pandemic did was to resurface it.
Manisha Gadtaula and Pratima Angdembe
(The duo has pursued Masters Degree in Economics and Sociology and are avid researcher about
economics and society . The opinion expressed here is solely from the writers and does
not stem from any person or organization)