Why computer education fails

Published On: September 22, 2018 12:15 AM NPT By: Hitesh Karki

We still continue to follow the same course built on foundational course designed by “experts” at the time when computers were a novelty

Pratikhsya is interesting in many ways. She’s a ninth grader and below average student in her class. Class toppers are boring—that’s what she feels. Her below-average performance in the class interestingly is outshined by one stand out subject. Computer Studies. Incidentally, she did not choose the subject. Rather her teacher made her choose on the grounds that it was easy subject to score.

And that’s exactly what happened. She has scored the highest in computer, now two years in a row not because she loves those boxed machines. If you ask her to prepare a word document with just a couple of lines, she trembles. But she asks: “Can I answer that verbally?” And before you nod in affirmative, she begins to tell all the steps to open, write, save and almost explain every other step regarding what it takes to prepare such document. It’s not that her school, located in Baneshwar, the heart of the capital city, does not have a computer lab. It does. It’s just that she so far has managed to pull through two years of computer classes by merely ‘touching’ the keyboard just about three times. Not to forget, the subject is divided into theory and practical and her aggregate score in practical so far has been above 90 percent.

This could be story of thousands of students like Pratikshya, who “study” computers all over Nepal.

Origin of learning 
The first blueprint of our modern national education policy was drafted by Sardar Rudra Raj Pandey, who chaired the commission along with Kaiser Bahadur KC and Hugh B Wood in 1956. Dr Wood, education specialist from University of Oregon, who was on a Fulbright Teaching Assignment in India, was specially invited by the then king to help set up National Education Planning Commission. This was almost a couple of decades after when Edison, after his invention of motion picture had famously predicted that “…motion pictures would revolutionize the educational system …and will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks”. Some six decades later, Seymour Papert of MIT Technology lab in his paper “Trying to predict the future” predicted, by going a step further, that world would soon be without schools, learning and teaching would be done via computers. It was only a matter of time, he claimed, before the idea of a conventional school—schools with classes, teachers running exams, students following a particular curriculum, students in a structured group—would all vanish. 

Nothing dramatic of that sort happened, but the world did witness the ubiquity of computers and that included schools. And Nepal, one of the poorest countries then and currently the 30th poorest country in the world as per GDP per capita, according to World Bank data, too saw the advent of computers. It took a while for them to make inroads into schools but they eventually did.  

However, it was not until 1994 that the government first designed and implemented a course named Computer Science. It was introduced as an optional course for grade nine and ten and first batch of students to sit for Computer Science course was in 1995. There still was no official subject as computers and few teachers who had learned the technique of using them from their experience abroad were transferring that knowledge to both students and teachers alike. 

In subsequent years, according to then schooling system, computers were introduced as a learning discipline in lower secondary schools followed by the higher education, or up to the SLC. While one can take heart from the fact that computer science continues to remain an optional subject across the board, the number of schools, especially the public schools, have increasingly gone to offer computer courses. Again, even though there is no official data as to how many public schools actually have or claim to have a fully, or partially, operational computer labs, the number sure is growing. A glance through the sites of Open Learning Exchange Nepal which also happens to be “Educational Content Partner” of Department of Education gives us some insight as to how computers have made into public schools.

Computers everywhere
Every other day, national dailies carry news reports of some schools setting up a computer lab, more than often some leader inaugurating the new computer lab. Apart from data that mentions about 3000 plus schools getting access to computers through matching grant scheme, no official data has been forthcoming. All in all, there are ample reasons to suggest that we are joining the global bandwagon, albeit way too late.

Various reports over the past decades clearly tell us that more than 80 percent of government expenses on schools go toward payment of teachers’ salary. This leaves very little ‘room’ for schools to invest on infrastructure development. Thus, with whatever little left combined with funds from external donors, schools need to find a way out to utilize what they have built with precious funds they have. 

The case, more than often, is the opposite.

According to Economic Survey, the percentage of trained teachers hovered around 91 percent for the year 2016. This is very encouraging. Sadly, there’s no classification of training provided as a result of which teachers do know the generality of being a teacher but do not know the specifics of applied teaching, something the curriculum framework stands on. The case gets even trickier when it comes to teaching subject like computer. They simply lack the art of teaching computers but in applied manner.

Second, as a result of dearth of trained computer teachers, other subject teachers fill in. Due to their obvious lack of natural affinity for computers, it makes their task difficult. Comparisons invariably are drawn with students of private schools and their ability to do quite a bit with computers. What perhaps people fail to understand is the fact that if you are left roaming in streets of Tokyo your chances of picking up the Japanese language is much faster than trying to learn the language within the closed doors of a classroom in Kathmandu. It is but obvious to expect that private school going children have some kind of similar devices at their homes like cell phones and they do subconsciously pick up the idea about speed, memory and ‘apps’.

Third, and in a domino-effect like manner, there’s no pressure on such teachers to teach “properly”. It’s a foregone conclusion that humans tend to ‘perform’ when under pressure. However, teachers of most public schools, with all due respect, aren’t under any pressure to make their students learn to operate these machines. 

Finally, and perhaps the most unfortunate of all, we still continue to follow the same course built on the foundational course designed by “experts” at that time when these machines were a novelty. They started off by learning what a RAM is and till date every computer studies course book starts off with few unmissable chapters like who invented the machine, what is RAM, ROM, CPU etc.  

Poor outcome 
No doubt, lack of skilled teachers has been identified as one of the major challenges vis-à-vis integrating “ICT” in education, namely computers, in school by Ministry Of Education. And in bigger scheme of things, that perhaps could be the reason as to why in spite of pouring in significant investments to set up computer labs may not have yielded a desired outcome.

Teachers did not grow up in an era where learning or using computers was commonplace. As a result when they attempt to teach the subject that they did not grow up with, anxiety creeps in. They lack the confidence to ‘demonstrate’ its use and therefore would rather opt to tell them what the machine can do without showing them how exactly it is to be done.

As a result, we continue to end up with students like Pratikshya who understands the machine as any ninth grader would in most parts of the world but only theoretically. That’s no good for her, neither for thousands of her colleagues.


The author is currently pursuing PhD in Technology Management in Public Schools from Kathmandu University School of Management

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