Unisha Aryal and Swostika Danuwar / kathmandu . COVID-19 is hitting Nepal in a rampant way. People are inside their homes from three (3) months. Some of them are unemployed, some are half paid by their organization and some of them are in the situation to loosen their jobs. Globally, 90 percent of the students are affected by the pandemic and they are being exploited in terms of their right to education. As every educational institution are closed, many of the educational sectors are conducting online classes. But the major question to the institutions and the government of the country is that, does every student has access to the internet and laptops?
In Nepal from the very beginning providing education has been discriminated. In the past, only elite were privileged to get study but slowly the rise in education to other people of the state happened. During the long history of Nepal, education opportunities has been unequally provided to the people between various genders, caste, communities, income level, geographics, etc. The Constitution of Nepal 2072, Article 31 state that right to education. It is the fundamental and basic right of an individual. State must be liable to fulfill its obligation to the citizens to make them literate. As the guardian principle, state must make sure that no one in the territory is being deprived from the basic knowledge of education. In Nepal, the government has provided free education up to the primary level whereas their higher education for people who are physically impaired and financially backward should be accordingly guided by the state as mentioned in the law.
Nepal has roughly seven million people, according to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, with more than five million registered in government-funded public schools between 2017 and 2018. To combat the spread of COVID-19, the federal government shuttered all schools and universities across the country on March 18, 2020. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), on the other hand, has instructed municipal governments to reopen schools at their discretion, with sufficient health and safety precautions in place, including shift-based programs. As a result, several schools have opened in Nepal, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, which is a hotspot for COVID-19 infections, putting old residents at danger.
As students were having online classes on regular basis what will other students do if they have not internet connection in their homes, villages, etc. Not only homes and villages school teachers are also not able to provide the teaching materials to the students in the governmental schools of Nepal. Though televisions and radio are broadcasting the classes but not every student have television or radio at their homes. In the 21th century, Nepal is far behind in the technological field. Students do not have smartphones and laptops and their basic right to education are being violated. What is the role of government here now?
It is the fact that there can not be change in overnight. But the government of Nepal must take serious action to protect the children’s right to education. Nepal has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 1 September 1990. Being the member state, it is the obligation of Nepal Government to provide rights to the children. Article 28 of UNCRC states that all the state parties shall recognize the right of child to education on the basis of equal opportunity. Nepal government needs to fulfill its obligation by providing easy access of education to all the children. But this pandemic has affected a lot in providing education to the students. As the consequence of the lockdown, schools, colleges and universities in Nepal have been temporarily closed.
Along with the compulsorily closure of schools, colleges and universities the education system has changed and rise of digital learning can be seen. Schools and colleges of urban areas have started to run online classes to mitigate the impact on learning caused due to COVID-19. However, it does not seem to be feasible in most of the rural areas. Providing equitable access to digital learning for all students in Nepal is a huge challenge for government. Since, this digital era in education system is new, many teachers may not be able to run the online classes smoothly. It is very important to provide training opportunities for online teaching.
Along with providing training to the teachers, it is very important to ensure that each teachers and students have access to technology and internet. Government should support schools, colleges and universities to strengthen their capacity to run online classes. Students who do not have access to internet and technology must get support from schools and government to prevent their drop out from colleges and ensure quality education for them.
Few months back Nepal government started few classes on radio and television. This is a good initiative and must be continued at this moment also. This will help the students to continue their education without internet access. This must be focused on those areas where online classes might not be feasible for all students. Parents and students must be aware about these provisions. Local volunteers can visit to the students maintaining social distance and taking health precautions to support them and ensure their participation on learning. Government can also work in collaboration with different telephone companies. The telephone companies can provide internet data pack for students to take online classes with low rate or for free of cost. This can be done under the Corporate Social Responsibility of the company towards the society.
The local level government of the places where there is less risk of spread of COVID-19 must manage facilities for alternative physical classes as well. It can be done on an alternative basis. For this, they can manage different local volunteers to support students. Along with proper physical distance and health precautions such as sanitization of schools, compulsory use of mask and face shield in schools might help the schools to conduct the classes on alternative days. However, this must be done after doing proper research whether it’s possible to conduct classes or not. It must not be forced upon students and schools to conduct the classes without checking for the consequences.
Different international organizations such as Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNESCO has started to provide financial aids to the developing countries to mitigate the disruptions to education cased due to COVID-19. Thus, Nepal Government can request for their support to mitigate the crisis created by the pandemic. The donations received from them must be utilized in a proper and systematic way with transparency. The funds must be provided to schools and universities to run classes without any disruption. The students from low economic background and those who do not have access to technologies and internet facilities must be provided with
different scholarship and other facilities to continue their education.
Meanwhile, the entire extent of the pandemic’s influence on learning outcomes is unknown. However, it is more important than ever to coordinate policy responses across international organizations, levels of government, and school administrations, with an emphasis on enhancing learning possibilities for children who are most harmed by the dangers of distant education.
The way Nepal addresses this problem now might have long-term consequences for students. This tremendous disruption to children’s education has underlined the need for governments to invest significant attention and resources ameliorating, mitigating, and correcting long-standing disparities in education systems that have been exposed and aggravated by the pandemic. The government of Nepal must reform policies that contributes to these disparities, such as continuous underinvestment in public education. Thus, the delayed in education cannot be happened as they are very essential for the children’s future, protection, health and happiness.
(writer are Students of B.A.LL.B. Third Year of Kathmandu School of Law.)