The current pandemic is a crisis for which we were not prepared. Even in previous years we dealt with different unpredictable situation – Political Conflict, landslide and flood, Earthquake. Most of the times whenever there is crisis, the first action from the government’s side has been just to shut down schools, which sometimes due to safety reasons makes sense. However, the lack in mindset to explore what else can we do during crisis has stopped us from being innovative. Why don’t we have the “Crisis can be an opportunity” mindset encouraging us to think differently.
Unlike other crisis, the current pandemic has limited our physical mobility with no choice but to stay at home. For most of us, it is the first time experiencing such a calamity and no one has the expertise to deal with it. It would be better if we accept this fact rather than trying to prove ourselves as an expert. The core issue is that we need to find out the ways to explore and develop solutions and act relentlessly on it. Reflecting the current situation, there are lot of questions that comes in my mind.
- Let’s assume this lockdown gets extended with full and partial effect for six months, what will we be going to do?
- How long will we be paying to all the educational staffs and teachers, if the situation does not return to normal soon?
- The job of teachers is to support the students but due to lockdown if a teacher can not support the students’ learning then is the system still responsible to support teacher? How long?
- If educational staff can not deliver work as designated due to lock down, is government still responsible to support the education staff? How long?
- If government can not deliver the work as expected, is public accountable to the government? How long?
- If teachers can not go in the school for six months or even more, what should educational institutions do ?
- Let’s say some of regions can be open in the near future but unfortunately in some region lock down can get extended due to rising number of cases where we can not continue the education process. Are we still going to follow the uniform process? (Eg. Some region being very close to India’s border, if there is lockdown for a year due to uncontrolled increasing number of cases, what are we going to do?)
- Do we even have any ways to support millions of students when there is lack of technology infrastructure and we have to be in lockdown?
I am not trying to bring the argument here that it is government’s responsibility to provide subsidy to its citizen. Rather I am more concerned about how can we keep moving on despite of the lockdown. And the tragedy for me is that I have no answers to my own questions. When I try to find out the answers, I see big deadlock – we have to limit ourselves in home. But I still believe “Crisis brings an opportunity” . We can not afford to sit idle limiting ourselves in our comfort zone. Rather, I believe if we collectively discuss similar kinds of difficult questions as above, we probably may have some path to move forward. As economist says, time is money and resources are limited, urgency is the need of today’s world. And with the crisis, there is no other way than prompt actions. I think everything else can be on hold but clarity among ourselves is the ultimate need. The early we are clear, less loss we can maintain.
There is no choice for us than to innovate. But simply copying other’s practices without contextualizing is no innovation. To explain it, I would like to share my personal experience of bringing the innovation. During my final year of engineering study as a part of final year project, I designed automated and manual robot. It was two big huge machines and we were very proud to see the final product. But after the evaluation there was no use of that machine and it was dismantled. Similar to our group, all the engineering graduates has designed different products ranging from automated system, security device and communication device. However, there was no uniqueness in any of the project but what we cared at that time was to get the bachelor degree from the reputed university. In most of the cases, we used to take references of projects of our senior or some examples of outside university projects and used to copy the principle. At that time there was huge problem of load shedding in the country that all the stakeholders were facing, but it was very rare to see if future engineers were prepared to think about the existing problem of the country. Later when I went to study my master in Engineering in Germany, I experienced something different. Whatever device/system we were designing during that time, it had immediate application in the industry/country or were used for the optimization of the ongoing research. All the projects we designed were unique, had some real time current application or possibility of future innovation. Some of the examples were- sensors for better agriculture process, biometrical devices, compatible storage devices for communication system, internet network for mobile devices like high speed train and plane, communication network for the rural community etc. It was mandatory to apply the projects in real time rather than just completing any project for the sake of grade.
Both in my bachelor and master it was mandatory for me to do the projects. But my engagement in the project during my master taught me and prepared me to see what innovation I am bringing in what ever I was doing. But the big question is, why these two kinds of practices exist in the world? Some copy while some innovate. The simple answer is when we do something just a sake for doing or may be to fulfill some requirement and we are not much invested. And to bring innovation, we have to invest ourselves with utmost capacity. Other factors to exercise innovation are dependent upon the possibility of its integration into the society. Now when we think about
innovation we have to implement the principle of “Bridging Leadership”. Once we create something, we have to communicate with all the stakeholders and collectively co-create, finally collaborate with all the stakeholders for its application.
In last one month, we have been hearing that the world is changing due to the lockdown and technology is the means to exercise new practices to bring solutions. This may be true but for whom? Do latest internet tools/technologies support more than six million students of public schools? In Nepal there are three types of schools – Elite Schools, Economical Schools and Public Schools. Both elite schools and economical schools are run for the business purpose while only few are there as not for profit. These schools not only have good learning infrastructure but also have disciplined leadership who can establish and execute proper system for the learning. While in public schools it either lacks infrastructure or disciplined system and in most of the cases it lacks both. Talking about the implementation of modern technology/tools, public schools lack both human resource as well as infrastructure to execute it. Private schools will definitely bring some solutions for themselves as usual, but copying the short-cut approach of private schools can not solve the problem of public schools. One of the reason private schools can adapt to the changed circumstances is that the parents of the students in private schools are not only capable financially but also have high awareness regarding education. Hence, they can be good support system for the new practices brought by the school. It is a proven that just by constructing school buildings and providing teachers, public school students do not have the possibility of getting quality education. Hence, as always I believe proper infrastructure can not ensure the quality education of public schools. While there have been good examples of some public schools doing as better than that of private schools. The common practice in such schools is stakeholders collaborate among themselves to strengthen the education support system. In this pandemic when we are thinking about education we need to reach out to all our students with a vision of “education for all”. We have to remember that students from marginalized communities are less likely to get support than others. Hence, if the current support system is leaving someone behind, then they are most likely the one who have least access. During any crisis the poorest of the poor are affected the most.
Here I would like to propose some the possible innovations for public school system – basic and secondary level. Reflecting upon the current survey of around 350 students from seven districts of the country done by Teach For Nepal, only 2.9% of students have proper Internet connection while 55% are using internet through limited mobile network. This ensures that it is not good to rely on supporting our students through internet only. As in the graph, around 50% of students have accessibility through electronic wireless media like television/radio/FM but can these media engage most of our students? When the mass support system has not been effective in long history of education system, how can we expect more from the virtual mass support system? One of the interesting data we can see through the survey is 98% of our students have mobile connection while 2% have phone network.
Now there comes a big question, how can we utilize the accessibility of phone/mobile network? There are examples of million dollar companies around the globe who have engaged with thousands of customers over phone to generate business. Even in my own work at Teach For Nepal, we have engaged thousands of youths in the application process for the fellowship through mobile/phone communication. Only last year 9 team members(including myself) have supported around 5,000 prospects multiple times during six months application process through phone/mobile in addition to other medium. In basic level there are more than 51 lakhs students and in secondary level there are around 8 lakhs students in public schools. While there are 1.8 lakhs and 25 thousands teachers in basic and secondary level public schools respectively. These teachers are the cumulative of teachers reporting in the school under different types of teacher contract. It may still seem very simple to support all students 1-1 by linear interpretation of teachers and students ratio i.e. 1:28 and 1:32 in primary and secondary level respectively. But our education system is very complex, and relying only on 1-1 phone/mobile support is also not feasible.
The students who have performed well in their learning process have demonstrated that it is a result of different factors- emotional care from family members, teachers and friends, 1-1 support in learning process, engaging to learn through group support. This means whatever approach we come up with, the collaboration between three layers of government, teacher, school administration, community, parents and students can only make the learning process meaningful. If we can come up with a collective ownership by utilization of all the resources definitely we can make bigger contribution of learning and growing of students.
Is there any possibility to prepare the environment where we support each students as below:
- Half an hour 1-1 support through phone or internet few days/week (if possible daily except holiday)
- Group support through television/FM/radio
- Learning through assignments where they will be working with their siblings/family members
- Providing some different learning materials that empower their learning in the lockdown
When I am talking about the continuation of the learning process of students I am not limiting my thoughts in completion of the course. Learning isa continuous process and there needs to be a system to make it continuous. There are mainly two reasons. First after analyzing the education system of Nepal, in an average, schools run for 150 to 160 calendar days in a year. Even with 4-5 months of lockdown, the regular academic calendar will not be affected a lot if government cancels most of the local holidays, summer break , winter break and holiday between Dashain and Dipawali. I have come up with the other reason as per my understanding of the deep issues of the public education system of Nepal. One of the prevalent issue is students in public schools do not have proper mastery of the content as per their level. Hence, instead of focusing on the curriculum and course, we should more focus on supporting students to strengthen their base in the specific subject as well as develop the practice of learning in a more creative manner. Let’s utilize all our resources to capitalize innovations by proper collaboration. The proper collaboration would be possible through true leadership.
The view expressed are my own and does not reflection my organization view.