Covid-19 triggered more initiatives in education sector

MoE to start e-learning management system from 2021

Yangchen C Rinzin

Last November, at the end of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa government’s first year in power, the government identified digitising classrooms under the digital education flagship initiative as one of their action plans.

The plan was disrupted after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country days after the 2020 academic session started. However, looking back at the government’s second year in power, the pandemic forced the government to embrace digital mode of teaching and learning, a much-talked about change needed in the education sector.

The pandemic hit the education sector hard. No one, government, education ministry, schools and teachers were prepared in responding to education during a pandemic. The education ministry was lost. Some private schools in Thimphu were ahead where Google Classrooms were already in practice and implemented immediately after the nationwide school shutdown. 

The importance of e-learning was felt and rushed. A group of teachers, called the Volunteer Teachers of Bhutan (VToB) stepped in with an initiative of tele-education to engage students by delivering lessons through the national television. The idea was well accepted, and the education ministry stepped in and enhanced the tele-education.

The ministry then launched “Bhutan e-learning” for Classes PP-XII. More than 400 lessons were recorded and broadcast through television and radio to reach unreached students. The ministry also came up with Self-Instructional Materials (SIM) in a very short period to cover students without access to gadgets, television or internet. 

The Digital Education Flagship that was supposed to digitise classrooms is still in the discussion mode. However, the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in many ways, triggered many initiatives that were in line with the digitisation plan.

An official from the ICT division in the education ministry said that although teachers at primary level are being trained for ICT currently, they were able to implement ICT subjects for Classes IX-XI due to the pandemic. 

 “We couldn’t implement it in full strength because classes PP-VIII are closed for this academic session. We hope to implement it by 2021 academic session.”

However, the government has supported every initiative that teachers and education ministry took to engage and teach students through online platforms. 

 

Did learning take place?

Many say no to learning and yes when it comes to engagement. Many parents, educationists and teachers Kuensel talked to, said that online education was more to engage students during the school campus closure and not more on the learning. 

Although the government decided to reopen Classes IX-XII, many said it was not opened because learning was important, the government prioritised these classes, as they have board exams and have to choose streams to continue in higher classes. 

The education ministry instructed all schools to assess and promote Classes PP-VIII based on short assignment or objective questions learned through video lessons, radio lessons or SIM. This, a parent said, meant promoting a student to the next class without learning anything. 

In the education sector, the biggest losers are the beginners, the Class PP students who after the government decided the admission age to five years, couldn’t attend school. The beginners began their school education online. They will be promoted based on what they learnt online or tele-education.

 

e-learning in 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic came as a blessing in the education sector. Despite several issues related to e-learning, the education ministry would be coming up with the Learning Management System (LMS). Dubbed as a major transformation, the LMS would prepare the education ministry ready for Covid-19 like situation in the future. 

With schools reopening in February 2021, the LMS, which is an e-learning platform would be implemented should there be another lockdown. 

Education minister Jai Bir Rai said that the ministry has already contracted out the development work to a consultancy firm. Lyonpo said that the contents of each subject, each syllabus, and period wise would be put in the management system. 

 “This means should there be any lockdown or such a pandemic situation, the ministry is now prepared to respond,” Lyonpo said. “Royal Education Council is already working on content development with the teacher for each subject selected to record lessons based on the prioritised curriculum.”

LMS will be virtual teaching with access to all students. The ministry is in talks with the ministry of information and communication (MoIC) to look into if the LMS could use the domain  .gov.bt  and intranet facility so that students can access anytime from anywhere. 

Teachers would also be trained to use LMS as a part of a new normal in teaching, according to the minister. 

Lyonpo said that schools in remote areas where internet service is an issue, would be allowed to teach in the school. “This would be until the place is declared a high risk zone.” 

To use the LMS effectively, students would require a device, which is why the ministry is going to propose the Prime Minister to explore the possibility of issuing tablets to about 173,000 (PP-XII) students in the country. 

 “If this doesn’t come through, it will again create a disparity among students,” Lyonpo said. “We’re looking forward to implementing LMS by January 31, and with the support from the government, we have a budget too.” 

LMS is a part of Digital Drukyul Flagship under MoIC. 

The government had also anticipated Technical and Vocational Education and Training Council in the second year as a preparation to receive the Class XII graduates. As a significant leap, government has already formed a TVET team under new Chief Executive Officer in March.

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