ICT and Educational Gap

Educational gap
The educational gap in Nepal between urban and rural schools, public and private schools, and private and private schools is deteriorating. For example, there are hundreds of private and public schools in urban areas. However, if we travel across the rural areas where transportation facilities are available, we can find a few private schools and a few public schools. Likewise, if we climb across higher altitude or mountainous region, the number of private schools disappears, and we can find around one or two, so called, public schools that is mostly run by communities, scattered between different distant villages. It shows a strange negative correlation between altitude and number of schools in Nepal. Now, if we think about the educational gap between public and private schools then we can find differences in syllabus, differences in the language of instructions, differences in the skill of teaching staffs, differences in the infrastructure, and differences in the fee structure. Once again, there is an educational gap within private schools. Some private schools look like multinational corporate houses, others look like particular schools, and rest are difficult to consider as a school. This gap extended to delivery of quality education as well.

Educational gap and its consequences
The gap is creating two classes of people: one who can afford private schools, and one who cannot afford it. Those who can afford private education concern more about tuition fee and quality of education, on the other hand, those who cannot afford concern sending their children to public schools or employ them in household work. However, it does not mean that they don’t want a better education for their children. To provide better education people are migrating to urban areas. Ironically, it is the general opinion in Nepal that private schools are better than public schools. Furthermore, statistics shows that less than 20% of the public schools students are able to pass the school leaving certificate (SLC) exam because of the poor quality of the education. In fact, this kind of educational disparities will continually enhance the socioeconomic gap between rural and urban, and between haves and have-nots. We believe that today’s children are tomorrow’s citizen, and education is the key driver to create better citizens. The prevailing educational gap indicates that it will create a defunct society in the future, if not taken care of soon.

How, ICT can help to bridge the educational gap?
If we ask government, they can show us hundreds of rhetoric policies, such as free education to poor, budget allocation to remote areas, monitoring of private schools, and bridging gaps between private and public schools, etc.,. However, they are not able to implement these policies even inside the Kathmandu valley. In this situation, what should we do to bridge the educational gap in community level? And, what role information and communication technology (ICT) can play? To understand this phenomena, we conducted a case study of three schools, namely, Himanchal Secondary School, Tikot Middle School, and Sri Devi school in Myagdi and Hetauda district respectively. These were public schools run by the local communities and located in the remote areas. Mahabir Pun, team leader of Nepal Wireless Network project, installed computers in these schools and provided internet connections through Wi-Fi technology. Now the students and teachers of these remote areas can connect and access to the resources and information not located in their sites. Likewise, the computers in these schools have been loaded with interactive digital educational content prepare by OLE Nepal. These educational contents are based on the curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education.
During our interview with teachers and students of these schools, we found some interesting facts. Teachers of these schools think that it is easy to teach using computers because all the study materials are installed in the computer, and there are interactive graphics based lessons that are easy to read. To teach the concept they don’t need to put much effort, however they have to be well prepared before taking classes. There are detailed notes for the teacher that explain which learning objective the activity is designed to meet, which chapter in the book the activity correlates to, how the activity can be integrated in classroom teaching, and how to use the activity. 
Children were very enthusiastic to use laptop and try to explore materials by themselves. The explorative habit of children was cultivating and they were more active than before. There were game based exercises, and they were trying to achieve more scores in the game. Which can help them to be more competitive, at the same time, it can enhances the possibilities of self-evaluation and self-learning. According to the Rabi Karmacharya, executive director of OLE Nepal, ICT has changed the teaching and learning process, it is more student centric rather than teacher centric. It also makes the teaching and learning process faster, and accessible. He also told us that ICT is a different medium of educational delivery, but the core principle of teaching and learning is the same.The use of ICT based technology has helped these public schools to increase the attendance rate of students. It also helped to improve the availability of textbooks on time, with the use of internet the text book contents can be downloaded anywhere and anytime.
Challenges and Suggestions to implement ICT based educational model
There are social, economical, political, geographical, physical, and human challenges to implement ICT based educational model. Karmacharya stated," putting computer at schools and connecting internet will not bridge the gap, but we need to produce the useful contents that can be understood by the students living in the rural areas." Two main challenges they described were resistance by teachers and expansion of the ICT based educational program. Karmacharya quoted," Our first and foremost target should be to convince the government organizations because we are not doing this forever. Our role here is more of catalyst, we [OLE Nepal] are sitting here and bringing all the stakeholders together to discuss the possible solutions, for example, to find different ways of doing it, and to find how best to do it, and how best to take this [ICT based education] to the mass." He said that involvement of local community is also important. Therefore, the solutions they are employing besides building technical infrastructure are teachers training, capacity building of the government employees, and approaching community leaders.

Finally, I would like to put the quote of social activist and educationist, Dr. Mahabir Pun, at this juncture.
”… this is a pilot study to learn about future possibilities, what’s wrong, what’s good, we need to learn. Right now, we are not doing any big things or it is not a magic. What we are trying to do simply is to tell that this [ICT based education] is very important and necessary for the future. In future, those who will not know ICT will be like a blind man. Therefore, we are trying to open their eyes right now. If they learn about computers in the beginning stage of their primary level classes, then their ability to search information in the computers will improve. They will develop the habits to search and learn using computers. Therefore, we are preparing them for the future. So we cannot say the result of this project will be seen after one or two years. The impact can be seen after 10 or 20 years, when these students will go to college level. In that stage, the lesson they learned now will be very useful to them, therefore, in the long run this technology will help to reduce the educational gap in Nepal.”

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