Opportunities, Challenges And Strategies

Rajendra Baral

Nowadays, we are virtually travelling around the globe sitting at home. The praxis of pedagogy has been shifted to virtual mode from the conventional physical mode of teaching and learning. Time and space have gone out of the stage; time has been fluid and space has become bigger and multiple. Webinars, online workshops, conferences and the use of mobile is excessive among students and teacher educators. Many students are doing their lessons in different subjects on a mobile phone at home.
We have virtual meetings with new people, new faces, popular educationists, linguists and a galaxy of scholars from home and abroad. We can hear them speak with confidence and skills on their expertise. It is all because of the global corona pandemic which has been both crisis and metaphorically a blessing in disguise and de facto master.
The shockwaves and shattering effects of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been massive and still severe throughout the globe causing unprecedented human suffering and loss of lives. The continuous lockdown has interrupted traditional schooling with nationwide school and college closures in many countries of the world. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning in Nepal was almost scarce and just the tip of the iceberg. The books, teachers and library were a portal of knowledge in the traditional pedagogy.

Of course, there are many alternative teaching and learning opportunities for both students and teachers alike. There is a growing interest in the remote learning environment through radio lessons, zoom meetings, mobiles, online platforms, apps and educational tools. Every household has become a classroom and homeschooling has been popular for both students and teachers. Teachers themselves can adjust the curriculum, lesson plans and time allocation.
Many previous methodologies, modes and approaches are being dismantled. It means that both learners and teachers have no burden of methodologies. Rather, heuristic method or pedagogically sound and simplified methods and choices have been adopted.

Since there is no participation in class physically, there is no participation in the exam in person too. So, there is the problem of tracing the students, measuring learning outcomes, knowing it works or it is working and making assignment clarity, assessment and final evaluation. Students are also in dilemma whether distance learning is equal to learning in the class face-to-face. Regarding logistics, devices and infrastructures, there is both low and no connectivity access of Wi-Fi, data, devices in many geographically challenged locations and disadvantaged groups.
There is a greater challenge to reinvent and reshape the learning environment, make extensive preparation and surf enough online platforms and apps to keep learning on track. Health services and education opportunities are still beyond reach to many communities and remote learning is a matter of far cry for them.
Society is polarized between Haves and Haves- not, digital natives, digital divides and digital immigrants with many kinds of disparity and inequality. Many parents and employed have been jobless and job lost; those having cannot go to work. The interrelationship between teachers and students is distanced by the virtual classes.
The sense of ownership of MY school, MY college etc. is also reduced to home. Service receivers (students and teachers) are at home and service providers are almost empty and lost in the wilderness at the workplaces. Due to the lack of accessibility, affordability and both low and no participation, online classes are still not administratively mandated by the institutions to both teacher circle and student circle. Digital skills are also ironically meagre among both teachers and students so far and hence there is still a lack of motivation on both stakeholders.

Coping Strategies
Of course, there are many strategies to respond to the present crisis caused by the pandemic. The initial responses were varied, confusing and uncertain. But now, the government and concerned sectors can adopt economic, political and educational strategies. The continuous lockdown and closures of institutions cannot be the only remedy. First, we must give top priority to the health and well-being of the citizens over other issues.
Using protective masks, sanitisers, maintaining physical distancing, avoiding crowds, home isolation, equitable delivery of medicine and other facilities, effective mass test and treatments etc. are some health and safety protocols that the citizens and the government can/should adopt and continue until the situation turns to normalcy.
As for education, homeschooling, online teaching and learning and useful educational tools and modalities can be adopted as immediate responses by teachers of all levels -primary to tertiary. Private sectors, communities and government itself should seriously think about the equal access of health care, food security, electricity, internet connectivity etc. to all in every village municipal.
The government and the concerned sectors can formulate the remote education policy and remote learning strategies. The students and teachers can adjust themselves with the use of available educational tools and sources.
The greater involvement of parents is required to make children active, interested and involved in online activities at home. Teachers and educators can also adjust themselves in the changing context of education for both personal and professional development. One of the best strategies can be blended learning – both in-person and online.
Cost-effective cartography and technology also can compensate for psychological and ideational (karmic) aspects during COVID and perhaps in post- COVID pedagogy. It indicates that the techno-savvy context is gradually emerging. What insight gained is that online classes should start and go on despite many constraints and vexing challenges. Formal and informal teachers’ networks should also be promoted.

Perplexing Question
Still, a vexing question looms large regarding what could be the curriculum and strategies to adopt for the parents and teaching and learning communities which are real stakeholders of education if the present crisis prolongs for some more time. However, the present context is not that frustrating and pessimistic like the Orwellian bleak and dystopian future.
It is true to what Dr Bin Zou, a Chinese educationist spoke during NELTA International Think-in-2020 in Nepal.” We have stopped the classroom without stopping teaching and learning”. Richmond, another educationist speaks that remote learning is not everything; it is just a casual and provisional alternative tool; nothing replaces human touch forever! For now, what counts more is learning in negotiations and skilful management of curriculum, methods and strategies.
Teachers are the gatekeepers and influencers who can adapt and manage the best practices and roadmap ahead. Therefore, what is important is preparedness mindset on government sectors, teachers, students and parents for the implementation of blended learning, a combination of technology and local methodology strategies which we simply call eco-pedagogy today.
To clarify more, eco-pedagogy is an emerging concept in education that contends the adoption of local ecology and technology in terms of classroom management, learning tools and materials, teaching strategies, addressing local languages, cultures, needs and expectations.