Dennis Adonis in his article Digital Disruption: Cause and Effect defines digital disruption in commerce “as a radical break from the existing processes in an industry due to new internet-enabled business models that are shaking up established industry structures”. Pretty much the same applies to the education industry. The education industry of Nepal is at an accelerated pace of digital disruption, and teachers are mentally unprepared to adopt digital technologies in the teaching-learning process. Schools, colleges, and universities are undecided on whether to adopt a new digital platform to serve students, or wait for a new normal to resume traditional teaching methods.
During this lockdown, I took 50 online classes for nearly 200 MBA students. I also spent 10 hours training 32 graduate-level teachers, and another 10 hours training 150 secondary level teachers to use Virtual Learning Management Systems and techniques, which are a must for fruitful online interaction with students. I am also a daily witness of my son’s online classes. On this basis, I can say that we are close to adopting a fully digital, or a hybrid model that includes both digital as well as traditional ways.
Digital disruption has changed the administration, as IT is now an integral part of government-funded agencies as well as public and private firms. What kind of changes it will bring to the education industry, is still an open question. The first challenge for education institutions is to prepare for academic operations and support to be provided to students. The second challenge is deciding the digital content to be delivered, and the third, to strategize what to do and what not to.
As the government has encouraged the use of FM radios, televisions, internet, and other internet-based technologies to engage students, the industry is in a dilemma about the most effective method. There has been no research in this regard. Whatever the means, the challenge for us is to deliver knowledge and skills to students through our patchy internet connectivity and scant resources for online classes. How feasible are online classes in our context, is still a big question.
Are we ready to use innovative technologies and new models to transform our education system? If yes, it is not possible in isolation. Interdependence to transform resources into results, with the ultimate goal of revenue maximization or cost-cutting, is a must among schools and colleges. They must come together to sort out technical tasks to automate functions in digital teaching-learning practices. But the bitter truth is that Nepal lags in digital disruption due to high levels of dependency on foreign applications and service providers.
It is high time to start believing that learning management systems can be designed, developed, and implemented on our own. For that we need to be capable of implementing and maintaining critical infrastructures and responding to attacks from intruders. A recent attack on websites of our schools and colleges by an India-based company puts a question mark over our preparedness. Also, hacking of private and public sites and information systems are common.
In the education sector, most service providers specialize in integrating software from global vendors to existing IT infrastructure, for example, Google Classroom, Moodle, Zoom, Microsoft Team, etc. Rarely is a software made in Nepal and made by Nepalis in line with the country's needs. At some point, this kind of dependence is going to be costly for Nepal. Neither is the government focused on open source nor on its own proprietary systems. Software companies are not encouraged on this either. Private consultancies draft new policies and guidelines for clients and assist them in training their staff. The government has no role in this whatsoever.
There is a need for a paradigm shift in our education system, with IT as its integral part. Skill-based certification courses will be in high demand in the near future. Yet the Ministry of Education continues to make important subjects like mathematics and computer optional. There are many training institutes, software companies, universities, and colleges offering IT courses in Nepal. But is there a mismatch between the content and the competence of trainers and learners and the requirements of the firms.
The instructors must consider a few things while taking online courses. Start with a few topics and cover them in depth. Cover three topics instead of five, don’t compare online class with traditional class, and keep calibrating your expectations based on student feedback.
Teachers must be flexible as the same teaching plan and course activities may not work everywhere. A class size of 45 at most is ideal to maintain intimacy with students. Body language is important, so make sure to ask your students to turn on their cameras or the energy level of the class will soon flag. Before starting online class, establish clear norms.
There is no harm in asking your students to be professionally attired, to keep their phones way, to resist from responding to emails, chats, and social media communication. If we don’t know our students in terms of their academic records, social backgrounds, personal experiences, and hobbies, the probability of failure is high. Encouraging students to share screens increases interactivity, while asking them to summarize content makes them alert and active. But the teaching techniques depend not just on instructor capabilities but also on the type of learning management system adopted.
Before adopting any application software, consider its cost of capital by factoring in the increasing cost of upgrades, licensing, and security maintenance. The education industry has to bear the costs of software, hardware, training, and change management and, most significantly, of reengineering the teaching-learning process. We are rapidly digitizing but failing to develop human and knowledge capital. Is this not a collective responsibility of the government, intellectuals, universities, and colleges to prepare for digital disruption in education systems? The government lacks a clear roadmap on this. Yet this is by no means just government business.
The author is an engineer and a Senior Assistant Professor and Program Head for BCIS program at Apex College, Mid-Baneshwor, Kathmandu