One of the most important questions that people want the answer to right now is ‘When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? Are we going back to the same old normal?’
And to be specific to the education system, the queries of Nepalese student throughout the lockdown is ‘Does the pandemic has the potential to change the traditional education system? How will the Nepal government do my evaluation? What are they planning?’
After the long wait for almost 4 months, the government came out with the solution and the solution is conducting the proctored exam and following the same old traditional method despite the corona pandemic. This solution is unacceptable for me as a student and also from the perspective of soon to be a public health professional.
I have witnessed the contradiction between my learning and real-life experience. As per the curriculum of Masters of Public Health (MPH), my program aims to produce a competent and responsible human resource for health (HRH) in public health based on need and demand by the country.
As a graduate with an MPH degree, I am supposed to acquire knowledge, skills, and attitude, which will enable me to address national and international public health problems. I am expected to develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts. Besides, I am supposed to inform, educate, and empower people about health issues.
My question to my curriculum developer is “Are you not the graduate of the MPH program? If yes, did you meet the above-mentioned expectation of the curriculum? And if not, why did you even develop such a curriculum which is not applicable?”
The education system of Nepal has always adopted the traditional way of teaching-learning methods regardless of grades and age of students. There has been a huge gap between what students learn and what students do. In recent decades, Nepal has been successful in dramatically increasing enrollment of students in schools.
There has been tremendous progress in education for a few decades but we aren’t there yet. Despite many efforts, Nepal has failed to provide quality education for all. The argument that there is a trade-off between access and quality doesn’t hold the water. There is a greater need for change in education policy and structure. Our education model is a traditional style. This should be enhanced and updated with time.
Learning of the student is always assessed by proctored exams and creativity and applicability of what is learned is congested. Three or four hours of paper pen based exams only assess the memory power of the students and not the actual knowledge and attitude. Practical knowledge should be emphasized. The public schools should prioritize critical analysis, creativity rather than memorizing. Effective integration of technology across the curriculum helps to enhance the learning process. The Government can include civil society and other concerned organizations in the policymaking process. This helps to improve the governance of education in terms of accountability and efficiency. Besides that, it helps to respond to the continuously changing needs of students.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is defining the global health crisis. It is not only exploring the vulnerable population of the society but also the vulnerability and incompetency of the health system, education system, and political system as a whole of a nation.
There are only three ways of getting out of the mess of the corona pandemic, either develop vaccination or develop herd immunity or permanently change the behavior along with the system. As we do not have specific treatment modality of COVID-19, prevention is the only strategy to fight against the pandemic, and change in system and behavior is the only option left. For this, the political system of the nation along with drivers of different sectors should be committed.
The education response needs to be innovative while adhering to standards to support impactful programing. Accordingly, education sector specialists need to work with their existing skillsets for crisis-responsive programming. All stakeholders should acknowledge that teaching and learning environments, practices, focus areas, and achievement levels during the acute phase of COVID-19 are not the same as they were before the crisis. Flexibility is key to meet learners and their educators where they are during the evolution of this unprecedented global experience.
Traditionally taking exams is not the only option left in the world. Developed countries like America and Australia, have developed their curriculum and assessment methods based on assignments, take-home exams, and also open-book exams that too long back before the corona pandemic hit the world.
The whole nation is fighting against natural calamities, economic burden, and the fear of this pathogenic illness. We are actually on the verge of triple burden of disease i.e. corona pandemic, non-communicable disease, and mental stress created due to pandemic. Traditionally taking exams will not only put students at risk of getting infection but also creates mental stress. We never know who is vulnerable out of many students and also we cannot guarantee that the students who are tested negative at the start of the exam will not be tested positive by the end of the exam.
Instead of taking COVID-19 as a curse, the nation should accept it as an opportune time to change its education system. Crisis often provides opportunities for positive change, and innovations developed for the pandemic response might prove useful in reaching marginalized communities in the future.
It is a high time education system to adopt a new teaching-learning method. Rather than forcing students to attend exams, the nation should work on developing its technology at this time so that all the students regardless of their economic background have access to technology. And for now, the government should work on arranging necessary provisions to conduct an online and open book exam. At least initiation at the early phase should be taken from a small number of students such as master level students and then gradually be expanded to undergraduates.
My appeal to related stakeholders is don’t rush and think sustainable. There’s nothing wrong with postponing exams or exploring the alternatives. It’s far better than costing the life of students. Taking sustainable measures in this crisis can be proven as a blessing for the post-pandemic life and sustainable development.
Sabina is studying Masters in Public Health. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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