Covid-19 period could be best utilized to bring innovation in teaching and learning. In Nepal, the court and the government are flagrantly playing with future of children, without the slightest compunction.
I am writing again on education because the education sector has still been kept in a state of uncertainty and confusion under the state watch and yet nobody—the government, Ministry of Education and political parties—seems to care about it (for more on how the government failed education during Covid-19 see my previous column ‘How the government is failing education’). The sorry state is not only the result of the Covid-19. Yes, Covid-19 kept schools and colleges shut for months and we still do not know when normal teaching and learning will resume but two events of recent times, which I will discuss in the following paragraphs, are troubling.
First is about the education of grade 11 and 12 students. When the lockdown started in March, the board examination of grade 11 and 12 had been scheduled for April and May. Both the exams were postponed. Nothing was said about the grade 12 exams but the National Education Board (NEB), the government body responsible for conducting the examinations of grade 10, 11 and 12, told the schools that they can calculate the marks of grade 11 students based on internal evaluation and this would be considered for the final grades of the students. However, it was not clearly communicated if online examinations (which most private schools conducted following this notification) would be considered valid. Fearing that NEB might not consider online internal evaluation valid (there is no clarity over this matter either) schools in Kathmandu are set to conduct examinations for grade 11 (who are now in 12 and who have learned and have been taught the grade 12 courses for nearly five months).
When the students who have been taught grade 12 course for months are asked to return to grade 11 course and sit for the exams of the subjects they stopped reading for over five months, you can imagine the anxiety the students may be going through.
Another troubling concern is related to the students who completed their grade 10 (SEE) this year, who have enrolled in grade 11 but who are still not told clearly what they will have to study.
The Ministry of Education changed the curriculum for grade 11 and decided to implement the new curriculum, despite the objections from various quarters, including teachers and academicians. But the new books were not made available on time and given the Covid-19 impact on education, many thought the new curriculum would not be implemented. Thousands of students have been left at the state of uncertainty regarding what they have to study even today.
Some of the schools in Kathmandu have been teaching the old course, while others have been following the new one, yet others have been teaching contents selectively from both old and new courses—such contents which match with both old and new courses—so as to avoid the prospect of having to start everything anew when the authorities deign to offer clarity over curriculum matters,one knows not when.
Complicity of the court?
One institution to perpetuate this state of confusion has been the court.
Responding to a writ against the government directives to adopt a new course, the Supreme Court in November asked the government to put the decision to implement the new course on hold, until further decision—part of the reason why a number of schools have switched to old course. The court should have taken such a sensitive issue really seriously and given the verdict on time. It scheduled the case for December 9, and the schools looked up to the date and the court for final decision over the matter. December 9 just passed away, no decision came out and the court again deferred the schedule to December 21.
Can the court keep delaying hearing and verdict on such sensitive case with abandon at the cost of serious impact on learning outcomes of students, while also keeping the schools, parents and students alike anxious?
There will be consequences of this deferral. First, the students who started grade 11 session from August and are attending schools (mostly private) are still kept in the dark as to what actually they will have to study. And second, because of this state of confusion, public schools across the country either have started to teach the students of grade 11 new course, or they have started to teach old course believing that old course would be finally implemented or they have not started the classes at all because they don't know what subjects to teach yet.
There is no end in sight to the state of uncertainty created by the Ministry of Education (it could have taken the decision to implement the new course from the next year citing Covid-19, many things have been put on hold citing Covid-19 anyway) and by the court (the court could have given the verdict swiftly). By the time the verdict comes, the students of grade 11 will probably have completed over five months of new session in a state of confusion.
One can assess the intensity with which the government and political parties ignore education sector in the current controversy regarding the report of High Level Education Commission, which some of its own members made public when the government kept it hidden for years.
Educationalists like Bidyanath Koirala and Shyam Kumar Shrestha, also the members of the Commission, have questioned the intention of the prime minister to hinder the implementation of recommendations because one main recommendation is related to ending the perennial concerns about the private schools. The Commission has made recommendations that private schools should be converted from company to trust within the next 10 years, so as to end rampant commercialization in this sector, that there should not be political appointments in universities, and that the government should allocate 22 percent of total annual budget for education.
This is something the government and political parties in Nepal do not want to implement.
Covid-19 period could have been best utilized to bring innovation in teaching and learning. In Nepal, both the court and the government are flagrantly playing with future of children, without the slightest compunction.