Saying the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have devastated the studies of Nepali school- and college-going students is no overstatement. Many have been forced into online learning overnight, after having done nearly all their learning up to that point in physical classrooms. The impersonal e-classes over patchy internet connections have put off countless students. If conducting online classes has been hard, examining student learning over the internet has been tougher still. Yet, overall, those who get to study over the internet are still lucky.
That is not an option for most Nepali students. Many may have no laptops, nor reliable internet connections in their homes. Their parents, many of them uneducated, wouldn’t be able to help them much with online education even if it were an option. Over the past three decades, the Nepali education system has discriminated against those attending under-funded and under-staffed government-run institutions. Most of the manpower produced by these institutions is not ready for the 21st century labor market. By contrast, the students who attend expensive private institutions enter the workforce with distinct advantages: better grades and skills, better handle of English, and confidence given by quality education.
The pandemic is deepening the gulf between these two sets of students. Another problem is that even the teachers who have taken to online teaching are poorly equipped for it. There is a need for the government, the education providers, and those coming up with innovative online learning tools to develop a broadly applicable model of education, perhaps a calibrated blend of online and offline learning. As it is hard to forecast the end of the Covid-19 crisis, a revamp of our education system has become essential.
There is up until now no clear model for home schooling. What kind of practical skills can children be taught at home, for instance, skills they can later use in their lives? What is the role of the parents in this? How do we ensure the cognitive skills of the students are not depleted while they are out of their schools and colleges? The cancelation of the SEE this year was an ominous portent. Millions of Nepali youths could permanently damage their chances at gainful employment if they can’t soon be reengaged in meaningful learning.