The COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closure of educational institutions in order to stop the virus’s spread. As a result, countries all over the world shifted from a physical learning environment to a virtual learning environment in order to continue educational activities. While many countries adjusted easily to the shift from physical to virtual learning, Nepal faced numerous challenges due to a lack of crisis preparedness capacity.
To meet students’ education needs during the lockdown, the Nepalese government launched Sikai Chautari, the country’s first digital portal, which included curriculum in both Nepali and English from grade 1 to grade 10. The online education system had never been tried on this scale in Nepal, but the digital portal claimed to be effective in allowing students to spend quality time learning school-based curriculum during the lockdown. Although the online portal claimed to be student-friendly and accessible from anywhere in Nepal, poor data connectivity, a lack of access to laptops and smartphones, power issues, and a lack of parental education acted as major impediments to access, resulting in education deprivation for many students in the country’s rural areas. While educational institutions in urban and even semi-urban areas advanced with online classes, students who attended state-owned schools and low-cost private schools were denied access to online classes, resulting in unequal opportunities for students.
Learning through an online platform remains a significant challenge in Nepal. State-run schools and low-cost private schools, in contrast to private schools in urban and semi-urban areas, are not equipped to run online learning. According to Nepal’s education ministry, at least 8.5 million students are enrolled in primary schools or higher education, but officials are struggling to devise plans for how the students can continue their education via online medium. According to the Flash report 2019-20, only 13% of schools currently have internet access, and according to the MICS report 2020, 45 percent of students are unlikely to regularly access online or other media. Similarly, according to UNICEF Nepal’s recent Child and Family Tracker survey, more than two-thirds of schoolchildren lack access to distance learning, and only three out of ten children have access to television, radio, and internet-based learning platforms.
Last year, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology introduced an Emergency Action Plan for School Education as an immediate response to COVID-19.
As an action point, this emergency plan included the creation of temporary learning facilitation centers and their conversion into free Wi-Fi zones. This was supposed to start in October/November 2020, but the government has yet to take a single step toward putting the plan into action. The government’s action point was perceived as an ambitious statement made without proper research. According to the Nepal Economic Forum (2020), the GoN also failed to build the necessary infrastructure for virtual learning during the COVID-19 period.
Given its limited infrastructure and resources, it is understandable that Nepal is slow to embrace technological changes. While neighboring India made rapid progress in the digital learning world, Nepal only became popular in digital learning after the pandemic. Nepal must learn from India’s initiatives to expand its e-learning reach and update its laws and policies to promote it appropriately. Rural schools and colleges in India have easily adapted to online learning, thanks to the country’s new era of digital literacy and the launch of the “National Broadband Mission,” which promises band width access to all villages by 2020. According to a survey conducted by the Times of India, there is a growing acceptance of online education across various rural areas in India, and it already has the second highest number of internet users in the world, with a goal of reaching 624 million active users by February 2021. Furthermore, the Indian government launched the “Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan (PMGDISHA)” initiative, which aims to reach 40% of India’s rural population and provide free digital literacy courses to citizens aged 14 to 60.
The World Health Organization recently expressed concern about the pandemic’s duration. As a result, it is critical that the government and educational institutions be prepared to embrace digital education as a long-term solution rather than a band-aid. It must increase the band width for good internet access, as well as strengthen capacity building measures in rural areas, such as mobilizing school teachers and parents in the use of technology for effective learning of students in rural areas.