Kathmandu: “Not too long ago, parents were worried that their children were consuming too much internet, using many devices, and having too much screen time. Some even restricted the children from using devices or limited their screen time. However, since the past year, the same technology has been the medium through which hundreds of thousands of students are being educated,” says Medin Lamichhane, the Principal of Ullens School.
Ullens School has done a remarkable job of providing online classes since the early days of lockdown. The school has been effectively imparting online education to more than 1,200 students, from kindergarten to high school.
According to Lamichhane, technology and devices were seen as a nuisance, both by the guardians and the schools. “We used to think that the internet, tablets, mobiles, and other electronic devices only spoiled the children. The pandemic hit us at such a time when technology wasn’t seen as a facilitator of education by anyone,” says Lamichhane.
In early 2020, when the covid-19 pandemic had just started to spread worldwide, the school’s leadership watched the world with keen eyes, especially the impact on the education system. The management was aware that the effects would soon be felt in Nepal, and the school had to implement digital learning. “We were prepared for it. We were following the global developments, and we anticipated the lockdown here in Nepal as well,” recalls Lamichhane.
The school wasted no time and rushed to make arrangements. Within the first three weeks of lockdown, the school set up the necessary infrastructure, trained the teachers, informed the parents, and commenced the online classes.
“We trained the teachers on making teaching plans, delivering classes on Zoom, giving assignments, and moderating the screen time of children. Preparing the teachers was a tough job as they had to be trained to shift the entire teaching modality from content-based to concept-based and to teach more in less time. We had to reconstruct the teaching method as the regular classroom lectures would not work in online teaching,” explains Lamichhane.
According to Lamichhane, another challenge was to equip all the teachers with the required infrastructure for taking online classes. “More than 180 teachers are currently employed at Ullens School, and we provided laptops and internet connections to all of them. We set the infrastructure for digital learning by going to the teachers’ houses and providing them with laptops and internet connectivity,” shares Lamichhane.
According to him, when the government canceled the 2020 SEE examination due to the pandemic, none of the schools in Nepal had the necessary infrastructures to run online classes, and not many had even thought about it as a possibility. In contrast, Ullens School was already providing online classes by that time.
Trial and error
Initially, everyone thought that the pandemic would recede soon, and online classes were only temporary. Parents and teachers expected that the physical classes would recommence, but after seeing no signs of it for months, all understood that online classes were the new norm. That was when the school management realized this could go on for a year or more, and became even more serious about online classes.
“The first trimester was trial and error, but we gradually improved. In the later weeks and months, we enriched our teaching methods and further enhanced the infrastructure. We provided digital writing pads to Maths, Science, and Nepali teachers to expedite teaching. We shifted from free to premium software, and we upgraded the internet bandwidth. After five months, we were administering the classes even more efficiently,” says Lamichhane.
Lamichhane informed that 100 percent of the School’s students are taking online classes with 100 percent attendance. “Classes are running smoothly, and teachers, students, and parents are all pleased and satisfied. All the school staff, including the cafeteria and transportation team, received full salaries every month throughout the pandemic. It’s all because of the support of the parents we received. From our side, we are providing a 25 percent reduction on monthly tuition fees,” explains Lamichhane.
According to Medin, the fundamental obstacle for running online classes is the lack of digital infrastructure. “I am in contact with many teachers and educators from other schools as well, and most are taking online classes through their mobile phones. This is not possible in our experience. Laptops and proper internet connectivity with good bandwidth are indispensable to run online classes effectively,” opines Lamichhane.
Apart from the infrastructure, it was again a huge challenge to go from a physical classroom to an online one as there is a difference in basic pedagogy. According to Lamichhane, it took some time to prepare the teachers and familiarize them with the technology. “Uplifting the teachers’ morale was another complication we had to face. While conducting online classes, the teachers are always under the scrutiny of the parents and guardians, which pressurized the teachers at first. But after parents showed their satisfaction with the teaching method, the teachers regained their confidence,” says Lamichhane.
Side effects of online classes
According to Lamichhane, digital learning can never replace physical learning, and online classes can never replace classrooms and schools. “Education isn’t the only thing children receive at their schools; schools help in the overall development of the children. The children used to learn from their teachers, play on the school ground, and socialize with their friends. All of that has become a memory now,” laments Lamichhane. However, as some relief, Ullens provides online classes for visual arts, performing arts, and physical education to cut the monotony.
“Too much screen time from an early age can have an effect on children’s psychological development, and the lack of socialization can detach them.”
He fears that too much screen time from an early age can have an effect on children’s psychological development, and the lack of socialization can detach them. “There is a widespread concern that children will be isolated physically and psychologically if the physical classes do not resume for a long time. In addition, the lack of interaction is impeding the language development skills and other social skills of the children. All concerned want the schools to resume soon,” says Lamichhane, who believes that online classes are not a long-term solution.
Talking about the future of education, Lamichhane says that another year might go like this as the second wave of the virus has worsened things even further. “Looking at our government, it will still take a few years to vaccinate the majority population and for the schools to operate normally. Whatever the situation may be, we are equipped to provide top-notch education to our students, says he.
Words of advice
“Despite all the setbacks and obstacles, I have learned from the past year that if the leadership is prudent and farsighted, it can avoid difficulties and save us from a lot of trouble. What we as a school have done in terms of education is remarkable. The satisfaction and support of the parents is a testimony to it,” says he.
Lamichhne, who is known for advocating for teachers, says that teachers need to be motivated for any classes to be run well, whether online or physical. “The teachers are working very hard at these desperate hours, and they should be given the respect they deserve. Parents need to understand that teachers are humans too, and they are from the same society. They too have been under a lot of stress lately, so I request the parents to be more considerate towards those in the teaching profession,” concludes Lamichhane.