Ensuring learning during the lockdown

Ensuring learning during the lockdown

“Ensuring equal access to online and distance learning for all students across the country is very challenging. But this challenge should be overcome”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across Nepal have been closed since March 19 and it is not clear when they will open. They could remain closed for many more days. The major challenge at this point is to ensure that all children have access to education. Many experts have expressed their opinions on the issue. Some favor online teaching methods while others opine that Nepal is not yet ready for online teaching. It is important to be clear regarding the availability of radio, mobile phone, television, computer and internet facilities as well as the current use and possibility of digital learning materials and software while discussing the matter.

Over the past several years, high-quality digital content for school level education has been developed and distributed for free by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST) and organizations such as Open Learning Exchange Nepal and Deerwalk. However, many children have not yet been able to benefit from these learning materials.

According to recent data, 88 percent of households with school-going children have mobile phones at home and 91 percent of households in urban areas and 84 percent in rural areas have mobile phones. In all the provinces, at least 79 percent of the households have access to mobile phones at home.

At the same time, across Nepal, only 26 percent of households with children in school have a radio at home. This percentage does not vary much by whether the child resides in an urban or rural area. Only 30 percent of households in rural area have radios at home. The case with the province is also similar. None of the seven provinces have more than 30 percent of the households with radio. A total of 52 percent of the households had radio according to the National Censuses of 2001. This means radio use has decreased significantly in the last decade.

Though half of the households have any kind of television at home, only 37 percent of the households with children in school have cable television at home. Furthermore, this number of masks variation across provinces, ethnicities, and rural-urban status of the household. For example, 57 percent of households in Bagmati Province have cable TV at home, while only 21 percent of households in Sudan Paschim Province have cable TV at home. Similarly, 46 percent of households in urban areas and 22 percent of those in rural areas have cable TV at home. However, very few households own computers, and most do not have an internet connection at home. For instance, only eight percent of the households across Nepal have a computer at home and a similar percentage have internet facilities at home. This percentage varies greatly by urban location, province, and ethnicities. While 12 percent of urban households have computers at home, only two percent of rural households have a computer at home.

Similarly, 23 percent of the households in Bagmati Province have computers, but three percent or less have computers in Province 2, Karnali, and Sudur Paschim. Only one percent of Dalits, two percent of Muslims, 11 percent of Brahmins and Chhetris, and 29 percent of Newars have computers at home. The proportion of households having the internet is by and large similar to those having a computer.

On the other hand, students in the community (public) and institutional (private) schools have different exposure to online learning tools. According to the National Assessment of Student Achievement (NASA) data of grade five, 37 percent of the students in private schools had at least one computer at home. The corresponding figure for those in public schools was 10 percent.

Similarly, while 22 percent of the private schools had internet facilities at home, only four percent of public school students had internet facilities. Only 35 percent of public schools have electricity. While MoEST’s data show that approximately 10 thousand community schools have computers in school, it is not clear whether those computers are being used for teaching and learning purposes. Moreover, only 12 percent of these schools have internet facilities. It is common knowledge that children studying in community schools are by and large from low-income households. While looking at households with computers, 65 percent of them are wealthy families, and just 13 percent are from low-income families. The vast majority of children without computer access are from poor households.

The data presented above shows that ensuring equal access to online and distance learning for all students across the country is very challenging. Radios cannot be the only option for distant learning as only one in every four households currently has a radio at home.

Similarly, television sets are available in only one in every two households. Focusing exclusively on delivering using television sets also risks alienating half of the children who are enrolled in schools but do not have television sets at home. Though almost 9 out of 10 households have mobile phones, one would assume that many of these sets are ill-suited for online instruction. Even if we take at face value Nepal Telecommunications Authority’s estimate that about half of Nepal’s population has access to the internet from their smartphones, it leaves a lot of Nepali children deprived of internet access.

Moreover, it doesn’t help that very few households currently have computers at home. In addition, to what extent students can use ICT tools, and whether the teachers are capable of developing content themselves is not yet clear.

Some private schools will be in a position to start online classes and children studying there will benefit from this. Even there, not all students will get equal opportunity. Similarly, the disruption in education to children in families with access to regular internet, smartphones and computers, and with family members who can support them academically will also be less than for those in families lacking these amenities or environment conducive for learning. There is no dearth of high-quality educational materials for most subjects produced in Nepal and elsewhere that students can take advantage of if they have the means and resources to access them. However, one needs to bear in mind that just access to these materials will not ensure their use.

We strongly believe that this difference in the learning environment may accentuate the disparity in learning that is already prevalent and widen inequities in education. All levels of governments should keep an open mind and explore various options so that most disadvantaged sections of the society are not further penalized. With firm determination to convert this challenge into an opportunity, it is not impossible to ensure quality online education in Nepal.

The government should be prepared with both long-term and short-term strategies to significantly increase the resources dedicated to education for procuring technologies and capacity building activities. In addition to broadcasting lectures on television, the central government should coordinate with internet service providers and ensure that households can download educational materials from particular websites for free. All three levels of government and development partners may also want to seriously consider providing smartphones or tablets with already installed high quality educational digital materials with provision to upload further contents to the children from extremely disadvantaged households. Teachers should also be in regular phone contact with these disadvantaged children and support them adequately. No one should lose sight of quality education for all.

This article was published in Republica at: https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/ensuring-learning-during-lockdown/

Improving Quality of Education through International Education Development Cooperation: Issues and Future Directions of Learning Outcome Assessment in Nepal

Improving Quality of Education through International Education Development Cooperation: Issues and Future Directions of Learning Outcome Assessment in Nepal

The main aim of this presentation is to review International Development Cooperation in education sector in Nepal, particularly focusing on learning assessment of students. It also identifies issues and suggest for future direction of learning outcomes assessment in Nepal, and discusses about the need of building international as well as regional network for learning outcomes assessment. It begins with the brief review of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in education in Nepal including students’ assessment. It then overviews the practice of learning outcomes assessment and discusses the issues and future direction of learning outcomes assessment. This paper is prepared for the presentation of key notes in Korean Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, Seol, Korea.

Education System in Nepal
Nepal has centralized education management system. Policy are formulated at Ministry level. Program, curriculum, evaluation, staff development and their implementation arrangements are set at department level where as implementation of all policy and programs are done at local level, namely at school level and district level. School education has some major characteristics: General education or technical and vocational education streams, school level is divided into two levels – basic grade 1-8 and secondary grade 1-12; free school education up to grade 12; two different types of schools in practice namely community (public) and institutional (private) at present. Performance of private schools is better than in public schools (ERO, 2015). Parents are more motivated to send their children in private schools. However, qualification and training of teacher is better in public schools. New constitution of Nepal 2015 has included the provision of free and compulsory basic education, and the government is preparing for implementing it. Along with the restructuring of the state into federal form, this constitution also provisioned local government with various responsibilities including governing and managing school-level education.
International Development Cooperation in Nepal
Nepal has been receiving financial and technical assistance from development partners in various sectors since 1959 AD as Official Development Assistance (ODA). In the beginning, grants, loans, and other supports were focused on the project model. Particularly, in education, focusing on improving access to and quality and relevancy of education, the program model was adopted during 2001-2008, which is also known as basket funding for the educational program. Since 2009 for harmonizing the cooperation, improving the effectiveness of the funds, and utilizing the funds in National interest, Sector Wide Approach (SWAP) has been adopted. School Sector Reform Plan (2009 – 2016) is one of the examples of SWAP. In the current School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) 2016-2023 a Joint Funding Approach is agreed to fund, implement and monitor (MOE, School Sector Development Plan (SSDP), 2016) the program in the school sector. However, the declining trend of the contribution of external resources in the education sector and the increasing commitment from the Government of Nepal to education, which also contribute to sustainable funding to the sector. The overall contribution of ODA in the education sector is now reduced to 12%.
The Government of Korea has supported Nepal in various sectors through KOICA and other support mechanisms.  In the education sector, the Government of the Republic of Korea has been supporting some projects on technical and vocational education, supporting in transforming technology through volunteers and providing scholarship to Nepali students, but these supports are outside of the joint funding arrangement for the school sector.
Regarding, students’ learning outcomes assessment, the National Assessment of Student Achievement (NASA) initially carried out with the technical support of the Finnish government together with some financial support by the World Bank as well as other bilateral and multilateral organizations. UNESCO’s roles, particularly, NEQMAP’s supports on developing capacity on national assessment have been crucial for Nepal.
There are some issues and challenges in International Cooperation and Development support. The decreased trend of DPs assistant, the conflict between National interest and DPs interest, high cost of reporting and management of funds, and unavailability of the fund according to commitment are major issues. Although Nepal has achieved indicators of access in Education, part of quality and relevancy is still unachieved. Making relevant curriculum and providing quality education is not satisfactory. Development partners’ supports are to achieve the goal of quality education for all. There is a big amount of non-budgetary and support from outside the government budget system from the various agencies, particularly through International non-government organizations (INGO) of which there is the risk of spending the funds beyond the needy areas. Harmonizing such support and utilizing it in targeted areas is also a challenge.
National Assessment in Nepal: status, issues, and future direction
In Nepal, public examinations, as well as classroom-based assessments, have been practiced to assess the student’s achievement. In order to provide feedback for the improvement of the education system and policy, National Assessment in Nepal begins formally since 1998 during the Basic and Primary Education Project (BPEP). Some National Assessments in various Grades were conducted in Basic Education before 2011. However, comparing the score was not possible because of different modalities and the use of classical test theory. In 2010, Education Review Office (ERO) was established for the regular monitoring of educational quality. One of the major functions of ERO is to conduct regularly the National Assessment of Student Achievement (NASA) in various grades of school education in a sample basis.  In this study, Item Response Theory (IRT) is used which made it possible to compare results over the years. Even though access in education has been improved, NASA results show that the quality of Education has not been improved.
Four National Assessments conducted since 2011 reveal that students are good in recall type of questions, however, they are weak in applying learned facts and skills in unfamiliar and noble situations, creative works, and reasoning. NASA results show that learning achievement is in decreasing order (MOE 2013; ERO, 2014, ERO, 2015; ERO, 2016). The positive result revealed by this study is the narrowed difference in gender parity in achievement in grade 8 which is the last grade of basic schooling and gender parity is achieved in the achievement in grades 3 and 5. However, several differences are pronounced by those four studies viz wide gap between rural and urban schools, Kathmandu valley and other regions, low Socio-Economic Status (SES) family and high SES family children, community and private schools, etc. The problematic situation uncovered by NASA is the lowest achievement of the students whose parents’ profession is agriculture and are illiterate. So, a major challenge for Nepal is to provide additional support to those poor economic family students and make availability of resources to use in school because they cannot afford those resources in their home. School bullying, unavailability of the textbook in time, low school open days, low motivation of teachers, gender disparity in higher grades, etc are the other problems exposed by this research. To address those problems, availability of resources, commitment from teachers and policymakers, long term road map of improving educational quality is necessary.
Up to 2015, NASA tests are norms based. Norms-based NASA is useful to find the gap between various groups. However, this assessment could not plausibly show what students can do, and how well they can perform. So, from this year, ERO started the standard-based tests with defined criteria and standards developed according to learning outcomes defined by the curriculum. A pre-test of this assessment has already been carried out; however, technical expertise in analyzing and reporting the assessment results has not been developed adequately. Capacity development of Education Review Office as well as enhancing national capacity on assessment is necessary for conducting national assessment effectively. At the same time, the Ministry of Education should establish a mechanism for revising policies and programs based on assessment results so that there will a system of implementing assessment findings to improve education quality. Integrating various assessments like Early Grade Reading Assessment, Early Grade Mathematics Assessment, and NASA is still undone. We are working towards developing National Assessments at the level of international level by making more comparable tests and exploring possibilities of participating in the International Assessment.
MOE. (2013). Where are We Now? National Assessment of Student Achievement 2011. Kathmandu: Ministry of Education.
MOE. (2016). School Sector Development Plan (SSDP). (pp. 123-125). Ministry of Education, Nepal.
MOF. (2016). Foreign aid 2014-15. Ministry of Finance, Nepal.
MOE. (2013). Where Were we now ? National Assessment of Student Achievement, grade 8 (Nepali, Mathematics, Social study), Ministry of Education, Kathmandu Nepal.
ERO. (2014). Where Were we now ? National Assessment of Student Achievement, grade 3 and 5 (Nepali, Mathematics and English), Education Review Office, Nepal.
ERO. (2015). National Assessment of Student Achievement, Grade 8 (Nepali, Mathematics and Science), Education Review Office, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.
ERO. (2015). National Assessment of Student Achievement, Grade 3 and 5 (Nepali, Mathematics and Science), Education Review Office, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.