Online Learning: A Struggle or a Blessing in Disguise to Acquire Other Basic Skills !

News UMCDSRC, Kathmandu - 22nd May 2021


My name is Bidhya Neupane. I am a citizen of Nepal. I am a SAF scholar pursuing my Bachelors in Development Studies in UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Centre for Development Studies and Regional Cooperation (UMCDSRC), National College, Kathmandu University, Nepal. I joined the undergraduate studies in 2019 and I am in the fourth semester of the course now. 

Physical classes were one of the victims of the pandemic. Apart from daily teaching/learning events, physical classes included activities such as welcoming friends and instructors, going to the library, holding a discussion on a current national issue, gossip, cafeteria rooms, sports, tournaments, lectures, field works, tours, and more. Physically attending college/schools is a fantastic way to learn about and exchange cultures, as well as to cultivate and improve our life implications. Interaction, eye contact, facial expressions, and the sharing of handwritten documents between teachers and students are all part of physical education. Physical classrooms, as a result, have a better entry point for teaching and learning programs. The transition from physical to online classes was a massive challenge, but it was a crucial change to implement in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Leaving aside all of the opportunity costs of online education, the educational system needed to adjust. Physical education classes at National College in Kathmandu decided to be discontinued on March 19, 2020. In the first week of April, it held the first virtual class using Google Meet. Students, college administrators, and faculty members considered this alternative practice to be useful in the event of worst-case situations since we did not know when classes would resume in the real workspace. National College, Kathmandu University, Nepal, has been offering online classes for more than a year. The courses are offered for three undergraduate programs: Bachelor of Development Studies, Bachelor of Development Finance, and Bachelor of Social Sciences.

I am a Bachelor of Development Studies undergraduate. This eight-semester course is immersive and research-based, with a focus on connecting students to people in the community. When online classes started, I was in the first few weeks of my second semester. I used to be skeptical that this method would ever be effective. My classmates were dispersed throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas. I was in a rural part of the world with no internet, unreliable power, a scarcity of sophisticated electronic devices, and a shaky mobile network. I could only afford an Android phone, mobile data packs, pens, and notebooks in order to participate in my online classes. Apart from students in rural areas, students in cities have had to contend with regular interruptions in internet access. Faculty members will face similar difficulties. These were problems that we could not completely manage, and they are still one of the most difficult aspects of teaching online at National College.

Another issue was the students' and faculty's digital abilities. Since the college used Google Suite for e-learning programs, all of the college's members wanted to learn how to use it. Fortunately, the college had scheduled a Practical Research Skills Enhancement Course for us at the start of our first semester. Throughout the course, we learned the fundamental skills of digital learning, Google Suite, and operating in a virtual workplace. Many faculty members, however, found it difficult to adjust to online teaching in the beginning. When we had physical lessons, the teachers would come armed with presentation slides as a teaching material because the college had well-equipped classrooms with projectors. The faculty found it easy to create slides, but it was more difficult to use apps like Google Meet, Google Classrooms, Google Sheets, and other pages. We used to help faculty members in need, and they used to help us when we were having problems. During this difficult time, classmates' cooperation was admirable.

Within a few weeks, we had adapted to online courses. However, tracking and recording class attendance with active participation remained a challenge. Because of our weak internet access, we were unable to switch on our cameras during the lecture, and some students were only passively present in the room, never speaking, asking questions, or participating. For all of the faculty members, attendance had been a major concern. There used to be very little interaction, and the classes were becoming more monotonous every day. Just a few of the same students used to answer the teachers' questions in each lesson. Owing to their silence, the rest of the students went unnoticed. This problem needed to be addressed in order for the classes to be more successful. To make the class more engaging, the coordinators began holding weekly meetings with the students to learn about our interests and concerns. Different techniques were used by the professors. We were given various reading materials to read, and we had a class discussion about the subject in which each of us took part. Some faculty members have proposed holding discussions on controversial subjects, which not only increased participation but also made the classes more engaging. Inside the classroom, we were free to ask our teachers any questions we wanted, and we could contact them by email or phone whenever we needed to. In the end, we were able to establish a good communication channel between students, teachers, and college administration on a virtual platform as well.

Another significant challenge in conducting online education was evaluating students' results. Rather than following conventional examination patterns, the college opted to place a greater emphasis on class engagement, presentations, article writing, and community projects. While we had more tasks than normal, our teachers ensured that they were interesting and insightful. To complete our assignments, we had to read journals, novels, and books and go through a rigorous learning process, which broadened our thinking abilities. Some tasks would be accompanied by online surveys, which we would analyze in light of the course's objectives. In order to be tested, we had to organize webinars as part of our group assignments. As a result of such encounters, we were able to further our professional growth. We shared our assignments with faculty through Google Classroom, and they used plagiarism detection software to ensure that we used our imagination in our work. As a result, we were graded on tasks and events based on our 50 percent grade. Class attendance was assigned a minimum of 5% of the total weight. Kathmandu University completed the remaining evaluations for the semester's end through viva and open book exams. The open book exam was designed in such a way that we were assessed on our critical thinking, analytical capacity, and awareness of the subject rather than rote learning/memorization. We were given a set amount of time to respond to the questions. We will photograph our answer sheet and compile it into a single pdf to send to college because the answers to the questions had to be handwritten. Despite the time-consuming nature of the procedure, we were confident that our assessment was accurate.

National College and Kathmandu University did their utmost to provide the best education possible. We, the students, did our best to participate positively in all of the college's educational and non-educational programs. The Pandemic Era is also a time of tremendous emotional turmoil. College allows us to engage with psychologists and promote our talents, such as vlogging, poetry, and dancing, through a variety of online activities. This college approach is admirable. However, I have dealt with a few of the issues on a personal level and have done my utmost to deal with them. I spent more time with the screen because I did not have any hardcopies of books. This gave me a headache. As a result, I reduced my time spent on social media in order to minimize my time spent in front of a laptop. Since I am a lover of Nepali literature, I generally spend my free time reading novels and writing. When I have free time, I also assist my parents in agriculture. Wheat harvesting, cauliflower planting, weeding out unwanted grasses, maize cultivation, and rice plantation were all experiences I would not have had if I had physical lessons. Since I started taking online courses, I have been able to spend more time with my family. Since I have been in a rural area, I have realized how difficult rural people's lives are. Nepal's rural people have been cut off from the rest of the world due to a lack of infrastructure. As a development studies student, I am committed to improving the lives of rural people, their communities, and their children. These days, I take my classes on a good laptop with an internet connection via mobile data in a Nepalese village. However, I see schools in this area being closed for an extended period of time, preventing children from exercising their right to education. This is the thing that most disappoints me, but it also motivates me to prepare my career in such a way that I can contribute to education.

Online classes can never completely replace physical classes because we cannot participate in hands-on learning, but they have become a necessity in today's world. Nepal, like other developing countries, is not robust or equipped for catastrophic events such as pandemics and disasters. It is disheartening to learn that the pandemic has engulfed the entire nation's educational system. On the other hand, I consider myself fortunate that I do not have to sacrifice my education as a result of National College and Kathmandu University's initiative. Every day, I hope that the pandemic will be over soon and that we will be able to recover from the lack of education. I want to work in real communities, visit societies, and learn about their issues so that I can help them in the near future after the pandemic is over.

Bidhya Neupane
Scholar of UMCDSRC, Kathmandu