The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. It continues to disrupt the so-called normal living by practically forcing people to stay indoors. With the lockdown moving its fourth week in Nepal, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to consider the current situation as the new normal.
Similarly, many are forced to adopt a new way of living. Among the few that adjusted easily, they have embraced the curse as a blessing. Platforms like digital wallets & e-commerce websites have already adopted and evolved their business to match the on-going situation.
According to The Kathmandu Post report, the Education Ministry has established a team of an expert panel, in hopes, to launch an online learning platform befitting the current situation. Moreover, the month-long lockdown has also forced the panel to come up with a working plan, even to revise the academic calendar.
Ironically, it took a nation-wide lockdown to highlight the emerging need for e-learning. Fortunately, a handful of academic institutes had taken their classes online even before the lockdown! And many are now considering going online.
Introduction to New Technology
Online learning has opened doors to explore new platforms. Learning through video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Hangouts, Skype, among others were never heard of. Now, it seems like an only reasonable doorway to get a proper education.
“We are using Microsoft Teams to conduct our online classes for both Bachelors and Masters students. It is relatively easier than other platforms out there.”, says Ms. Simoli Gautam Desai, Operation Manager at Sunway International Business School (SIBS).
ING Group which consists of Islington College, Herald College, Informatics College-Pokhara, Merryland College-Biratnagar, and Itahari International College have been using G Suite for Education to conduct online classes for more than 5000 students.
“We have taken the online learning approach long before the lockdown. We have been using Google Hangouts Meet to conduct Live online classes. Likewise, we are using Google Classroom for assessments and resources .”, says Mr. Laxman Pokhrel, Group Head Operations at Islington College.
Over the mainstream video conferencing platforms, KFA Business School is using Skype to connect students with their teachers.
“We prefer using Skype because of its portability. Plus, we used to conduct different online sessions like webinars, guest speakers’ classes through Skype. So, we were more than comfortable going with Skype to conduct our online classes.”, says Ms. Jasmine Hada Bajracharya, Director of Academics & Consulting at KFA.
Adjusting to Online Classes
Adjusting to new technology is never easy. However, the concept of online classes isn’t all that new. Students have turned to YouTube Tutorials and other Digital Learning Platforms as an easy alternative to traditional methods. Also, it is one of the reasons why university-level students are easily adjusting to the new format.
“Since the situation demands flexibility, this is our only option right now. Despite the few hiccups at the initial stage of implementation, things are very smooth now.”, says Mr. Laxman Pokhrel.
“There was a bit of a learning curve at first. It wasn’t just students, even the teachers were getting hang of things. After a week or so, everyone got used to it. Then, everyone kind of found this convenient.”, says Jagriti Srivastava, BSc. IT (Hons) student at Sunway Business School.
“Online classes act as a temporary replacement for traditional classes. In order to make that shift, online learning must be as interactive as traditional learning. So, we have several quizzes, Q/A sessions, and assignments to make it more interactive.”, adds Mr. Yogendra Bahadur Mahata, teaching faculty at Sunway.
Succeeding in Online Learning
The overall success depends on both teachers and students. In order to keep everyone on the same page, all the institutes gave a week-long training session, about conducting and attending online classes, to both teachers and students.
“We had a week-long session preparing for this which included mock sessions between the teacher and the students. So, we had started to implementing it long before the lockdown.”, says Mr. Rajat Bajracharya, Academic Coordinator of MBA and BHM at KFA.
Similarly, Mr. Laxam Pokhrel says, “Even though we haven’t noticed any cases of students trolling or misusing platforms, we have established a controlled environment to conduct online teaching. Plus, the online classes are running smoothly thanks to the Code of Conduct provided to both teachers and students.”
Likewise, Ms. Simoli Desai says that the Sunway has established a separate IT Lecturer Support Group to assist teachers without any background in IT or computers.
Unlike physical classes, online classes require two important components: computer and internet. So, it is quintessential for these components to be accessible if a student wants to attend an online class.
“We are teaching about 280 students through online classes. Right now, we have about 80-85% per class. However, the remaining students are missing out either due to their remote locations or lack of internet connectivity.”, says Ms. Jasmine Hada.
Moreover, Mr. Laxman Pokhrel adds, “We have about 90% attendance, a percentage that surpassed our initial expectations. However, we do understand that few students are missing out due to the unwilling circumstances. So, we are being flexible with attendance.”
Surely, many students can gain proper education through online. But, what about those who have missed? Well, the institutes have placed proper fail-safe for those who don’t get to attend those classes.
“We completely understand that 400 of our students might not have the luxury of fast internet. And, sometimes students can’t attend classes for one reason or the other. Keeping that in mind, we have recorded each and every lecture. Plus, we make those recorded classes, along with assignments and other resources, readily available for the students at all the time. So, they can access them whenever they can.”, says Ms. Simoli Desai.
Thus, many educational institutes have placed similar fail-safe for students who miss out on those online classes.
Taking traditional education into a fully digital realm is a daunting task. However, many institutes have successfully transitioned their entire operation online. Often, these bring forth some unique understandings like never before.
“As a student, I’m thankful that I’m getting an opportunity to study. If we look at the current situation, we don’t really have much else to do. Likewise, we get to learn from the comfort of our home which is a definite plus point.”, says Ms. Jagriti Srivastava.
“Going digital has made things easy, manageable and more convenient. Otherwise, I’ve not noticed much of a difference. Interestingly, students and teachers are welcoming the change with open arms.”, adds Ms. Simoli Desai.
Talking about unique experiences, Ms. Jasmine Hada says, “It is a historic moment for all of us, so we are making it memorable. This opportunity has created more engagement with the students. Moreover, the students sent us their pictures, videos, and articles of their own experience with the lockdown. So, we’re glad to experience this together.”
For the most part, the transition to online learning has been smoother than expected. However, the continued use of online learning has highlighted a few shortcomings of the platform.
Mr. Yogendra Bahadur Mahata says, “Yes, online teaching is best for theoretical subjects. However, we have encountered a fair number of difficulties while teaching numerical subjects like Mathematics and Accounting.”
“So far, I’ve had a positive experience. I’ve gotten more hands-on with my education. However, that also means if I encounter any problem with a certain topic, I have to do a few extra steps to consult with the teacher. If more of my friends encounter other difficulties in the same topic, the consultation process takes longer time than before.”, adds Ms. Jagriti Srivastava
Finally, the issue with slow internet is the key challenge between students and online education. Almost all the representative vented their frustration of lack of proper internet infrastructure.
Taking on these issues, Mr. Laxman Pokhrel adds, “The online learning can be considered a valuable addition to the traditional education system that takes students beyond the classroom. This is a nice opportunity to experience something new. However, technical problems like the slow internet is the only thing that is holding us back.”
Replacing Traditional Learning
In hindsight, the on-going lockdown has brought forth a revolution in the traditional education system. Moreover, it has showcased itself has a solid alternative to the old school experience. So, a question does arise that if Online Learning is a viable alternative even after the lockdown.
“No, I don’t see Online Learning replacing Traditional Learning. The traditional learning is different in terms of ‘human touch’ and ‘interaction’ which is difficult to replicate online. However, it can be partially implemented to get the education to different remote parts of Nepal.”, says Ms. Jasmine Hada.
Likewise, Mr. Laxman Pokhrel adds, “I don’t see this as a replacement per se. I see it as an add-on value. Since the situation demands flexibility, it is our only solution right now. There are still places for improvement. Maybe in the future, but not right now.”
Surely, online learning has provided an easy alternative amidst a difficult time. However, it still has a long way to go before being a reasonable replacement. Instead, online learning can be used as a viable alternative for educating people at remote locations. Again, this isn’t possible without proper infrastructure.
Finally, it is important to point out that the institutions have gone through extensive training and mock sessions to make online learning possible. Plus, these institutes had strong IT-backing to make that transition to digital. So, it can be concluded that every other institute must seriously consider putting their efforts on IT development.