COVID-19 Effect: Emerging Use of ICT in Academic Institutions of Nepal
As of 8 April, starting from Wuhan, China in December of 2019, population of all countries (except three namely Ecuador from Africa and Tajikistan and Turkmenistan from Asia) has been affected by COVID-19. Based on Johns Hopkins, total of 1428428 confirmed cases, 82020 death and 300198 recovered cases has been reported. In case of Nepal, 9 confirmed case, 1 recovered and 8 active cases have been reported by WHO (as of 8 April 2020).
In last century alone there were multiple situation of pandemic taking millions of human lives across the globe in the form of 1918 influenza pandemic (infecting 500 million people-about a quarter of world’s population at the time), 1968 flu pandemic (death of over one million population all over the world), H5N1 2006 (455 human casualties and death of over millions of chicken and turkey) and Ebola outbreak 2014 (11315 reported death). Joint effort from experts across the globe were able to reduce or cut the impacts in earlier pandemic cases. After outbreak on December 31, 2019 from Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has travelled across the globe already affecting millions of populations with the no sign of stopping soon. Though, medical experts and pharmaceutical experts are working on exploration of medicine or vaccine to combat the COVID-19, no firm progress has been made so far especially in terms of finding the medicine or vaccine.
Not only human casualties, but also every single sector has been hardly affected by COVID-19. Socio-economic implications have already started to be seen across the countries. Globally, share market has gone down, industries have been closed, private health institutions reduced its services and small-medium enterprises has been closed.
Normally, in epidemic or pandemic or cases of small to big disaster, education sector is the one to be affected at first. As the COVID-19 transfers from person-person, almost all education institutions schools, colleges and universities across the globe has temporarily closed its classes with no confirmation regarding re-opening dates in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus. As per the UNESCO report, the closure of academic institutions affected 1576021818 young learners constituting 91.3% of the total enrolled learners (pre-primary to tertiary education levels). In Nepal alone, 8796624 students (Pre-Primary: 958127, Primary: 3970016, Secondary: 3463763 and Tertiary: 404718) are affected.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China back in December 2019, Government of Nepal has taken precautionary measures by requesting the academic institutions to re-schedule their examination and complete regular school exams before or by first week of Chaitra. When COVID-19 was declared pandemic, decision made by Government of Nepal to lock down country is running in third week. All crucial examination such as SEE and HSEB examination (+2 level) has been postponed. Tribhuvan University has postponed all university examinations. Since, the schools were scheduled to be closed after completion of SEE, COVID-19 outbreak has not affected the regular curricula like that in other countries. However, the students to appear on SEE (total 482219 students, MoE, March 25) and +2 examinations are among the group to be mostly affected. Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has developed Public Service Announcement (PSA) materials focusing on COVID-19 in Nepali and Maithali language that can be easily accessed in virtual medium. Furthermore, Guideline and Minimum Standard to follow for the utilization of school as location for quarantine has been developed and circulated among other Government bodies and schools across the country.
For countries from developed as well as developing countries, continuation of learning has been the challenging yet prioritized task. As per GEM Report (25 March), as an alternative to closure of academic institutions, online or distance learning approach has been adopted by institutions from countries such as Nepal, Argentina, Croatia, China, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Republic of Korea, USA and Australia. Looking at current scenario, teachers and school administrators were encouraged to utilize applications to deliver education session or apply Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) approach. Similarly, countries such as Nepal, China, France and other has been delivering academic knowledge through TV and other media.
“The virtual classes that KUSOED have been organizing are very helpful. As we can maintain the regular classes and keep up with the semester schedule, the interactions with the professors are also regular.”- Ayush Rai, Student, M. Phil, KU
“Despite the fact that COVID-19 has brought disturbance in our day to day life, it certainly has brought some great relief in the life of people who is working and also pursuing academic courses at the same time. Virtual classes have made my life very easy; the hassle of commuting, getting ready just for getting to college somehow has reduced. At the same time, I felt that when you are comfortable and are not thinking about what next after class then the learnings after the virtual class is higher than real classroom learning.”- Student, MBA, Ace Institute of Management
For a country like Nepal, though use of technology is not at advanced stage like that in countries such as China, Korea, USA, UK, Australia or other European Countries. However, seeds has already been rowed through inclusion of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) in education sector in Government implemented programs such as Education for All program (2000-2015), School Safety Reform Plan (2009-2016) and School Safety Development Plan (2016/17-2022/23). Academic Institutions such as Kathmandu University has already adopted distance education and e-learning. Government has been producing and broadcasting the teaching class for the students of Grade IX and X through NTV. Likewise, Open and Distance Education of Tribhuvan University (TU) has been running virtual classes in Master in English, Math and Public Administration since 2015. Now, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST) and university authorities also have started discussions and consultations with concerned stakeholders for initiation of e-learning in coming days, if the situation still is same or become worse.
“Government of Nepal has already formed the committee under the leadership of VC, NOU which will look after the research and recommend on the possibility of management of online material and other virtual medium as an alternative to respond the COVID-19 impact on education.”- Joint Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST).
As per Docebo , “ Out of the 122 countries tracked by Ambient Insight Research, Nepal was in 6th position showing the positive growth rate for self-paced E-learning”. Though distance learning for academic courses could be the new venture to look at, it has its own demerit in cases of countries like Nepal, that is the lack of availability and accessibility of smooth internet facilities with good bandwidth across the country. As per Nepal Telecom, (2019, 63% of Nepal’s population has internet connection, of which 79% of them are reliant on mobile phones, mostly limited to urban areas. Most of the rural areas still lag high speed 3G, 4G and other broadband services. On top of that, academic institutions especially public institutions have found difficulty in adopting updated technologies to implement technology-based teaching-learning system even with huge investment and promotion from Government of Nepal. Looking at the circumstances, e-learning is far from imaginable condition at least at school level.
“Looking at the current prospect of Nepal from availability of infrastructure (availability of digital devices, internet facility, strength of bandwidth) at home or school/universities, existing teaching-learning approaches (requiring interaction between student-teacher, mandatory attendance, mixed approach in terms of theory and practice), adoption of distance or online learning could be the challenging task. Application of distance learning depends on the nature of course and degree and could be partially applicable. For the courses focusing on application, practicality and familiarity with technology, distance learning may not serve the purpose whereas for the course focusing on theories and lecture requiring limited interaction among student-professor, distance learning can serve the purpose. As distance learning is still fresh concept in global scenario, for country like Nepal, it can be supplementary act where student can refresh their knowledge and upgrade their skill rather than having full fledge degree especially in technical course.”- Prachanda Man Pradhan, Ph.D., Associate Professor Kathmandu University
Looking at the global circumstances, emerging needs and technological progress, the ICT based learning could be the daunting yet possible task. In countries like Nepal, where there are far more challenges and less opportunities, ICT based learning can be initiated from degrees for bachelor and higher level. As some of the institutions has already proven knowledge and experience in ICT based learning inside the country, their learning can be capitalized and replicated in other institutions and courses as well. In this pandemic situation, institutions such as Kathmandu University already started e-learning. The learning from the brief period of time could be fruitful for longer term, if only adequate reflection, discussion, consultation and policy level interventions are executed. Though equitable access is the major concern to dealt with, the underlying opportunities and ongoing experiences should not be neglected in rapidly growing education culture in terms of adoption of ICT in education system. Though, COVID-19 has been burden for human population, it already played the role of catalyst for educational institutions at global scale in terms of searching and adopting innovative approaches in relatively short period of time.
(Thapa is a M. Phil Student at Department of Development Education, Kathmandu University, School of Education)