9-15 August 2013 #668

Computers in schools without textbooks

Not enough homework has been done on an ambitious program to equip 20% of government schools with computers and internet
Sunil Pokhrel

If the new budget is actually implemented, 20 per cent of the schools in Nepal may soon have computers and internet connections. Finance Minister Shankar Koirala set aside a whopping Rs 1 billion to hook 7,123 schools to the net in the coming year.

Although this is a small proportion of the 35,000 government schools in the country, the decision was extraordinarily bold and ambitious. Providing support for rural community schools to leapfrog into the age of the internet is laudable, but the Department of Education (DoE) which is supposed to implement this plan is woefully unprepared.

The DoE has been a perennial underachiever. Just look at its record of annual non-delivery of text books to schools around the country. If the department can’t deliver books, how can it deliver computers? The dismal SLC pass rate also points to the shameful failure of the education bureaucracy. How can a country move forward when 72 per cent of high school graduates are labeled ‘failures’? Even if we ensure computers and internet in the classroom, how are they going to change that result?

Many teachers and district education officials erroneously equate learning with typing on a computer. The government’s hefty budget allocation, one hopes, is not limited to teaching children keyboard skills and allowing teachers to hook up on Facebook, but to expose them to computer-aided teaching and learning. Before sticking a computer to every classroom, DoE officials have to be first helped to develop digital learning content for different subjects and grades so that the machines will be a meaningful resource for both teachers and students.

ICT integration into classrooms will require teacher training to integrate computer-aided learning. But the SLC results this year shows that teachers lack training and motivation even for rote learning, let alone producing critical thinkers. This is the collective failure and indifference to the Department of Education and most District Education Offices to quality in the classroom. Nepal’s politicised teaching fraternity has other priorities besides raising students with an all-round education relevant to their community and society. Teachers all moonshine as political cadre, union activists or have NGOs. And with elections coming up they are also mobilised for other duties like polling and census data gathering.

The problem is not hardware. It is the software: computer literate and enthusiastic teachers who can motivate and inspire children to use the vast knowledge base in the internet to expand their horizons and make a difference in their learning environment. Just putting a computer in the classroom will be a colossal waste of money.

Computers also need electricity and even schools that have power don’t have lights for most of the day. Government schools will get Rs 160,000 from the state for computers and printers and will have to add another Rs 40,000 from local resources. There seems to be no allocation for internet fees, maintenance, upgrading computers, and running costs.

The government hasn’t done its homework on integrating computers into schools. It simply seems to want to spend a lot of money for a showpiece program that is neither cost-effective nor sustainable.

Sunil Pokhrel is a curriculum expert at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal.

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