The two schools in Sindhupalchowk district that I recently visited both had good computer labs. But the computers were all covered in dust
We seemed to have thoroughly goofed up the integration of technology in our schools, the public schools I mean. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. But when it comes to integrating technology in public schools, Nepal seems to have directly jumped into the task of chopping down the tree.
“It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with technology or even the school. It’s curriculum.” This was the nonchalant reply of one member of a charity that has spearheaded the movement to take technology to our public schools. His argument was that the computer science course itself was flawed. The course, according to him, rather than getting students excited about using computers and internet, instead forces them to learn the theory of how those black boxes actually operate. They were expected to understand the workings of various components like the CPU, the RAM and input and output devices. The computers were never portrayed as friendly devices that could make learning fun.
The public schools in Nepal, especially those that have had the good fortune of getting donations, either from local community or international donors, seem to have fairly well-equipped computer labs at the start. They have good access to internet along with a set of computers as well as a room that takes pride in being labeled a proper ‘computer lab’.
The unfortunate part is that in many such schools these computers are not used. In two schools in Sindhupalchowk that I visited, and both of which had well-equipped computers labs, the computers themselves were covered in dust. The students said they were seldom allowed into these labs, save for the days the donors came to ‘inspect’ those labs.
Of the six schools I visited in the district, students in four said that their principals ‘abhorred’ the use of technology, specially the internet. The principals had openly expressed their dislike of computers on many occasions, mainly for two reasons. One, the principals believed that just having the computers were enough for students to ‘see and learn’ and two, they thought the computers, and especially the internet, was a source of ‘entertainment’ and as such students should stay away from them.
But the schools or its leaders are not entirely to be blamed. For example, at this school in Kavrepalanchowk, all computers had been donated by different agencies working in the field of education. The problem here was that unlike other classrooms that did not require much maintenance, the computer labs called for high maintenance, and the schools often did not have the right tools to do this. Take the use of anti-virus software. The teachers in these schools were afraid of using external drives lest they imported harmful viruses which could damage the computers, which in turn made them not to use these computers at all! Surely, the donors could have better educated them on this.
It was a classic case of giving someone fish without teaching them fishing. The donors seem to have given little thought to the issue of sustainability of the noble cause they were supporting.
Also, public schools cannot always purchase what they want, especially when the school management committees are heavily politicized. This was especially the case when it came to making any kind of ‘technological’ purchases. Let us assume that one school needed to replace an internet modem, a device that is essential to run the internet.
The threat of importing a harmful virus made teachers so nervous that they stopped using computers.
Often, this device will be available only in one of nearby cities, which will be miles away, and even when modems are available, the specifications may not match. Another problem is that the school management is often unaware of the right price of these devices. If it goes ahead and purchases the device nonetheless, it could then stand accused of corruption. This was a valid fear, given that few school management team members I met had the requisite technical knowledge to allow them to make informed purchase. So they end up not replacing the faulty modem at all.
Our public schools are struggling to retain their students, who are increasingly lured away by ‘English medium’ education. Their loss of students notwithstanding, many public schools claim to be as technologically savvy as their private rivals. Yet there is clearly more to this claim than first meets the eye. Dearth of funds is not the problem; the problem rather is lack of preparedness to go the digital route.