Access to Education During Crisis

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With Nepal adopting a nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, all schools within the country have been ordered to shut down and are likely to remain closed for an indefinite period of time.

In the past 49 days, Nepal experienced quite a few developments in the field of primary and secondary education. The private schools initiated online classes and the Ministry of Education introduced e-learning platforms for school students. However, in light of the children deprived of internet facilities, the beginning of the digital education era in Nepal was criticized by many, urging the government to rethink its strategy.

In more recent moves, vouching for an equal stance for all students throughout Nepal, the focus of the government has shifted towards barring schools to admit any children, conduct any classes and take any fees. The move was indeed of great intent – it helps contain the pandemic, resembles equality among all students and decreases the financial burden of parents. But at the same time, we are talking about depriving 7.1 million children from accessing basic education for as long as the pandemic is over – which can take a few months to a few years. Additionally, the most immediate repercussion will be that, in a matter of months the private schools will start to collapse, especially the small and medium ones. This implies a situation where even in the post pandemic world, the students of Nepal will continue to be deprived of education and inequality among children will still surge.

It is comprehendible that amidst a time of crisis, it is very difficult or almost impossible for central planners to keep track of all the available information required to plan a smooth functioning nationwide education system. Thus, no matter what the authorities choose – to operate online classes or to close all down – it will never be the most rational decision. This is because, central planners tend to forget that what they think is a solution is not the only relevant one, especially when one is applying that to the whole nation which is immensely diverse in itself.

Decentralization might thus be the most effective in circumstances where we need to come up with solutions to tackle unknown problems. The local governments in this scenario will have higher knowledge on geography, local demand, culture, economic background and other aspects of their people and area and thus, can make decisions accordingly. For example, the Himalayan areas, having very low chance of virus transmission and low internet penetration, can choose to physically open schools, whereas, the areas inside Kathmandu Valley can choose to operate online classes.

Similarly, the authority to take decisions regarding curriculum and teaching methods should be devolved to each individual school. Since different schools have knowledge regarding the type of students in their school, the demand of parents, their demographics and the ability of its teachers, the schools themselves can come up with the most effective teaching modality for the students. For example, schools in highly vulnerable areas with low internet penetration can make certain changes in the curriculum and coordinate with parents to provide homeschooling to their children.

Adding on, the practice of making decisions on the basis of local knowledge can help the education sector in the post pandemic world as well. Numerous studies have found that after facing the brunt of school closures as well as economic shock, students, especially from poor backgrounds, tend to drop out of school. Such developments are bound to fuel inequality among children and the cost of bringing the situation back to normal will be huge for the central government.

This might sound chaotic for the majority who have lived their entire life following the rules and regulations of a central authority. Numerous questions regarding the quality of education and if each school will be able to make the right decision might pop up in our minds. But the local governments and the individual schools can always consult with educationists and other experts while making decisions.

Decentralized decision making is in fact the best bet that we have to prevent millions of children from being deprived of education.