Huge disparities in quality of education and access to education characterize the Nepali school system. Schools in rural areas, mostly government run, compare poorly to schools in the cities. These government schools not only suffer because of the digital divide, but also lack the quality in teaching and tools to enhance the learning process. In fact, forget the â€œDigital Divide.â€ The â€œQuality Divideâ€ between â€œschool-havesâ€ and â€œschool have-notsâ€ is far more pressing. As the majority of students at primary and secondary level attend government schools, these discrepancies translate to poor outcome, and low quality of education. Thus, it is important to introduce reforms that aim to not only provide equal opportunity of education, but also to improve the overall quality of education for all. But how to achieve this goal? It is a daunting task, especially for a developing nation like Nepal to consider radical changes to its educational policies. I believe that Nepal can use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to improve the quality of education, and expand access to education. OLPC, along with e-libraries, open-courseware, and other initiatives can radically enhance the quality of education in Nepal.
What we know
A major indicatorâ€”although, it can be argued that it is a poor oneâ€”of the status of education up to secondary level (grade 10) in Nepal, is the School Leaving Certificate (SLC). Students take the SLC exam at the end of grade 10 to mark the completion of requirements set by the government, that a student has successfully completed at least 10 years of primary schooling. The data compiled over the last decade shows that on average a meager 38 percent of the total examinees pass the test. Among those who appear for the exam about 80 percent come from public institutions, of which only about 41 percent succeed. The 20 percent that come from private schools have around 88 percent pass rate, and on average score 18 points higher compared to those from public school. What it shows is the lack of quality, and disparity in education among schools in Nepal. Equally deterring is the lack of use of technologyâ€”chiefly computersâ€”in public schools. While most private and some public schools in the cities boast a meaningful incorporation of computer courses in their curriculum, it comes as no surprise that most others claim to have never seen one. The answer, to how to improve the quality, and narrow the digital divide in education is not simple, but ICT seem to have answers to some of the problems plaguing the education system of Nepal.
The value of ICT in education lies in their capacity to deliver educational material that induces a self-learning process that simulates creative and innovative thinking. It is generally agreed upon that it induces a collaborative, and self learning environment that teacher-centered and whole class lecture methods lack. Indeed, examples are abound in American, and European institutions where this method is already preferred. Teachers simply act as facilitators rather than instructors. The idea is not to curb the need of a teacher, but to let students learn through discovery.
It is important to understand that the role played by ICT in the educational system of a developing nation like Nepal. It would be naive to think that by simply providing a technological tool to some kid in rural Nepal will actually improve his learning ability and outcome. In fact research already shows that â€œeducational materials in electronic form are most useful when it is directly linked to curriculumâ€. It becomes more relevant to teachers, and students when it has components of curriculum in it. The growing popularity of the use of ICT in e-libraries, e-learning, and distance learning are good examples.
There is no statistical evidence, however, that proves a positive impact of ICT on the quality of education, or on the learning outcomes. However, it is no reason to conclude that it can not. Only a few decades ago the notion that the internet would change the way do business, interact and communicate among other things would have been a laughable proposition. For most the internet has now become ubiquitous.
Technology has the ability to bring change, and for developing nations it can become a cost effective, and accessible tool to improve the quality of education. Many countries are already focusing on implementing ICT in education. A majority of educational projects funded by UNESCO, World Bank and other private organization [some resources] contains an ICT component. It is done with a belief that ICT is a viable option that has the potential to improve both education and lives of many in these developing countries.
One Laptop per Child in Nepal
The OLPC initiative can play a vital role to make ICT-based education sustainable in Nepal by becoming a cost-effective, and affordable means to reach population in rural areas. More importantly it has a large open source base, that enables localization, and modification, which adds a sense of ownership. But the challenge is more than to simply give laptops to children, it is to understand how it can enhance the teaching and learning process. The laptop by itself is a great tool for learning. It is durable, and child friendly, and is all about collaborative learning, sharing and communicating. But the best thing about it is that it empowers local groups like OLE Nepal to make this project our own Nepali, Thai, or Nigerian project.
So whats going on with the OLPC project in Nepal?
OLE Nepal and the Department of Education of Nepal along with other local organizations are working on various aspects of the OLPC project. OLE Nepal is implementing the OLPC pilot (read about the schools) in April 2008, and is steadfastly working with various sectors of the community to take the project forward. The Danish IT Society have supported OLE Nepal’s efforts by signing a MoU with OLE Inc., to raise funds for laptops for Nepal. The Danish government through its embassy in Nepal is funding the pilot. The Ministry of Education along with its partners is also actively involved in build infrastructure required for the project.
A few remoteMakwanpur district s are is already connected to the Department of Education through wireless technology, and work is in progress to connect more.
OLE Nepal is also putting major focus in developing learning activitiesâ€”that are linked to the national curriculumâ€”to be used with the laptops. Constructionist Education does not mean giving children a blank slate and expecting them to invent the calculus. So teachers and curriculum experts are guiding the development of these activities. In fact OLE Nepal is partnering with the Department of Education of Nepal, to develop such activities. The two signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work together to create these activities that meets the learning objective specified in the curriculum while allowing the students to use their abilities to learn by their own.
The activities are interactive in nature, and can be modified by teachers even with minimal programming knowledge. This gives the teachers the ability to change things according to their needs, enhancing the teaching process. One can easily find the similarity between these activities and the actual text book, only now it is more fun to learn. Not only does this help to convince the government, the teaching community, and the parents who would otherwise find few if any reason to spend the already stretched budget on OLPC, it more importantly promises to students a chance to better education and creative endeavor.
The OLPC project has received a positive reaction from different sectors of the community. Teachers like the potential the project promises, students who have the used the activities like what they see, and the government seems enthusiastic about implementing it. One point that critics usually raise about the OLPC project is its lack of attention to actual educational activities in the laptop. But the OLPC is looking to put its laptop on hands of population around the world, and creating educational material that addresses global population is not best done by an organization based in a wealthy western city. This work is best done by local organizations. The work done by OLE Nepal can be taken as an example, and similar work can be collaborated for localized use with the laptop.
The initiative taken by the Ministry of Education to integrate the OLPC project into the national system has already taken some steps forward. But much more needs to be done to actually see the results. Network infrastructure, internet access, long term financing, human capital, the general awareness about modern technology are a few things that needs immediate attention. Training teachers to effectively utilize the technology is equally important. We need more people to come to Nepal to work for projects like this, especially young Nepalese living abroad. I give example of all our volunteers who have the vision, and the commitment to make a difference.