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Embracing Online Learning – Beyond COVID 19

Online Learning in Nepal
Embracing Online Education in Nepal

25th May 2020, Publisher’s Note

We always have been listening to, reading, and debating about, the subcontinent’s civilization is the oldest and most rich in terms of learning, development, and culture. Civilization has witnessed terrific changes and also tried adapting to it. The subcontinent has invented, discovered, and developed some great theories, schools of thought, instruments, and even knowledge.

Education started from a long ago in the subcontinent, it came to good shape in about 1500- 600 BC, where most of the education was based on Veda and gradually towards the Hindu texts and scriptures. According to the same Vedas, the aim of education is Liberation. Here, the main things which were taught were pronunciation and recitation of Veda, the rule of sacrifices, grammar, nature, logic, and most importantly occupational skills. The Upanishads, which are termed as wisdom teaching have been in existence since 500 BC, here the teaching methods used were reasoning and questioning. A poem like Mahabharat became the part of ancient education in the subcontinent that might be from 8th Century BC which discussed a lot from what we discuss today; purpose, pleasure, duty, and liberation.  Takshashila, was established in 5th Century BC, which is termed as the first university of the world is in the Subcontinent. During 6th Century BC, people traveled to Nalanda, in this sub-continent from different countries like Tibet, China, Korea, Central Asia for pursuing education.

The subcontinent has been a pioneer in terms of education and its development, in some matters, what I witness is education was much more liberal and innovative back then. The nature of education which people then believed was more systematic because of the obvious reasons; reasoning and questioning. All this process helped the subcontinent in developing some amazing inventions and people from different parts of the world accumulated that knowledge and made so much out of it, of course adding up their own creativity, intellect and research. Today we do go out of subcontinent to study, learn, and educate ourselves. Have we tried introspecting it? What happened to make the ball go on the other court? Did we lack in adapting with time and started being rigid to our very own system ? Or did we think, we are the best and we shall be the best?

If its yes for any of the questions above, our very own education system already failed there. We do need to reflect and be reasonable and answerable to the questions raised for the development of any aspect of life and it is no other for education. We have a great belief in tradition and custom, and we do follow that, sometimes, in exchange for our happiness, and most importantly, the need of time. However, what we forget is, the so-called traditions and customs were also once initiated and it was a matter of change and new adaptation back then. Every “OLD” once was a “NEW”.

In my opinion what we failed at doing was, a lot of us, always believed this is the only way to do it and that’s the only right, and somehow, these were the people who were in a position to decide and make things happen. However, most of the other parts of the world did not have a very long and traditional history so they knew things are opted to be changed and change is the only possible source of development.

The whole point I am trying to make is about coping up with the change in education, the inevitableness of Online Learning, or Remote Learning. Online Learning initiated to solve the problems of those who work and learn so that they can work at the working hours and learn at their own desirable time, it was very correct at the time of creation. However, we still think of it as the same and call it “It’s not for us, it’s fancy”. Like we generically term, Vocational Education, as something which is not for people with high worth, which is absolutely wrong. In my recent live online discussion with the Director of Research at Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training Nepal, Dr. Kushmakar Bhatta, we discussed the same issue of Vocational Training, the lack of people with the vocational skills and the high pay they receive today, in an hourly basis, which is difficult even for the so call highly categorized professions like Doctors and Scientists, most of the time these professions are on Monthly Salary at least in the subcontinent.

What I want to connect over here with the example of Vocational Education, is that we do not validate the concept or thoughts till the time we need it, we always like to be certain, and do not like to get on to the unexpected journey such as Online Learning. Only if we had gradually initiated to get in tuned with Online Learning earlier, we wouldn’t have so many difficulties that we discuss today. —This is a learning for the day.– The situation is not because of the problem in Online Learning but an issue of Digital Divide or moreover the willingness to adapt.

I did not go too much in detail of the situation, as I believe we do understand the situation of Corona Virus and its impact on education which has made us think and adapt to Online Education.

I decided on writing about this, with a specific reason for debates going on about Online Learning, majorly saying this is not for the Majority or the Mass, this is only for people who can afford it. I do respect the concern of people saying this, and I also do understand education is all about rights and everyone should get it.

Let’s see what are the challenges of adapting to Online Learning Mode.

While we are discussing Online Learning for all and not just professionals, it requires the participation of Students and Teachers also somehow the parents, meaning all the stakeholders need to adapt. While the parents majorly used to shout at children for using computers or mobiles for gaming or watching videos, today they have to come up and set up online classes for their child, themselves. The teachers who had been restricting the use of mobile devices in schools, today have to ask the students to use them and also adapt to the new technology, themselves. However, I am not generalizing this to all, it is just a case. It became a need of time, things need to move on and so people needed to do it, people are not habituated about it like people are habituated about social networking site; You see today parents and grandparents are also on Facebook, soon they will be on Zoom and Google Meet. It is just a matter of time, and people have already started understanding its need and importance.

Secondly, the challenge is, people say the Online Learning is not interactive, I remember a very recent live online discussion on Online Education that I was having with some University Leaders of Online Education in South Asia, and Prof. Rozhan M. Idrus from Universiti Sains Malaysia said something very interesting about the interaction in online learning; some say the online education is not boring and the classroom education is boring; mind you, the teacher is same, so it does not depend on the medium, be it online or offline, it all depends on the modality that you choose to teach and learn. And at the same time, I was discussing with a student in Nepal who has been taking online education from his Undergrad School, and he was happy, on how learning Math’s has been much easier with the use of interactive tools that have been designed for teaching the students by the teacher, and he also mentioned those tools were not yet used at on-campus classes. So, the solution to this problem is the teachers and the school/institution/training providers need to be creative and put a sense of interaction and community towards the learning to make it more vibrant. I see online education as the medium of Social Constructivism as it can very well emphasize on the Collaborative efforts, where students and teachers can team up and parallelly connect to people from world in a matter of second and create much more, similarly, it gives much more priority to Problem Based Learning and instant peer reviews.

The biggest challenge as also mentioned above as well is said to be “Online education is for few who can”. Now this is where we need to be really very constructive rather than destructive. Let me give you an Analogy, ” Food is only for people who can earn, and not for people who can’t, so stop eating “. Doesn’t this statement seem foolish, should we stop eating as we don’t earn, or shall we get there and start earning to eat and the Government, NGOs, and people with worth shall help people who don’t have jobs to eat.

The second one seems a better option, I suppose, it should not be the case that we stop online learning because a lot of people cannot use it. We should rather think of ways in which we can make it reach to all and make it accessible. I believe that would be Equality. It has been about 2 months since the Lockdown initiated in this subcontinent, and we can very easily witness that the schools or the students who have been using online education are learning, being engaged, collaborating with their peers, and being productive which also helps them in terms of mental well-being.

Now, it is high time that we start implementing different ideas for making the education reach to the people who are not yet enrolled, we can use different mediums, gradually as and when possible, for now, the learning can be implemented by the use of National Television, Radios, Mobile apps for which you just need an internet connection (however there may be no charges of internet usages for these learning apps). Slowly all these can be implemented at the Ward Level, where we can set up a learning hub, and a centrally controlled system may be at Provincial or the Federal Level, I believe this can also solve the issue of unavailability of good teachers in the rural area. We are in an era, where few municipalities have initiated Free Local Wi-Fi in public areas, so I understand that this is absolutely possible. And this is something which I am not just putting forward for this situation of lockdown but for the future as well. The teachers come online from a central system, s/he teaches the subject, the students can participate, interact, there may be facilitators locally, and so on.

The learning can continue forever, it is just a matter of our willingness to adapt change and see the possibilities rather than challenges. While I am talking about Online Education, I am not at all putting aside the importance of one on one and practical on-campus learning. I do not support online learning as the substitute of Class Room/ Lab learning, but having Online Learning as a complement to have the balance of time, remove the constraint of location or language, being prepared for a future similar situation as of Lockdown, which we in the subcontinent face quite a time; strikes.

Online Education helps in much more engagement, absorption, and retention of knowledge and it can be repeated until the time student is comfortable with the subject matter. As we discussed above, reasoning and questioning being a part of early learning in the subcontinent, the online learning also very well helps in doing that, not only at a particular time but at any time of convenience, which also is liberation.

Stay Safe! Stay Home! We Will Revive!

-Asish Thakur