REC develops Education in Emergency

Yangchen C Rinzin

With schools across the country shut down until further notice, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday said it was not compulsory for all teachers to conduct online education or E-Learning classes if faced with challenges.

Lyonchhen said that both the government is working on how to engage the students during the closure through various measures.

“If it has become necessary to teach online, there are measures already being worked out,” Lyonchhen said. “However, schools are only closed because of Covid-19 to stop students from gatherings, teachers are still paid their salary so, they should continue to work and coordinate with the principals.”

Many teachers, students and parents, however, questioned if the E-Learning was compulsory, as some are feeling this measure as a challenge and burden.

Many questioned the feasibility of E-Learning through Google Suite (computer software) which many teachers were asked to use to teach students during the closure.

Although some schools explored using G Suite, teachers said that without reliable internet services, especially in remote schools, it was not possible.

“We feel like we’re being pressurised to create virtual classes and lessons at a lightening speed with the assumptions that all students have access to internet or computers,” a teacher in Phuentsholing said. “Not every teacher is tech-savvy.”

Another teacher said that they feel they are forced to adopt such a system in a short span of time. A teacher in Pemagatshel said that internet connectivity could hamper reaching through social media or using internet. “We don’t have proper internet service to communicate through social media applications, how can we teach students through Wechat,” a teacher in Pemagatshel said. “Not many students have smartphones or tabs neither can they afford.”

Parents said students are under pressure and have started demanding smartphones. “I feel health is more important than rushing to cover the syllabus or creating panic among students who are worried they might miss the lessons,” Sonam Gyamtsho, a parent in Samdrupjongkhar said. “Parents and students are panicking about online education more than Covid-19.”

Another parent, Samdrup Tshering in Paro, said while the government was doing everything possible, haste among teachers and schools could lead E-Learning in the wrong direction.

“With expensive internet charges and inefficient services, systems like G Suite/Google Classrooms are impossible and Bhutan is not yet ready for this,” another teacher in Trashigang said. “Not many know how it works or what it is.”

Some also questioned the capacity of parents to monitor students and ensure students use internet wisely.

However, Lyonchhen at the press conference said that V-ToB, a group of volunteer teachers was already working on online education called Bhutan E-Learning. It would be broadcast through Bhutan Broadcasting Services (BBS).

“This may not have the same impact as normal classes, but this is one of the measures to engage students,” Lyonchhen said. “We’re still in discussions with the two telecom companies on the internet service and exploring ways to provide tabs to remote schools.”

Lyonchhen reminded that the closure of schools meant that parents could put in effort to encourage students to read. “We’re in a situation where we all must come together and work together instead of bringing in differences.”

Meanwhile, the Royal Education Council has developed Education in Emergency (EIE), a guideline to implementation of curriculum to ensure that children do not lose instructional hours during closures.

The guideline will provide a platform for students to access and avail educational services remotely through the use of mainstream and social media and engage students productively at home and minimize people-people contact to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Education Minister JB Rai in a live broadcast last evening said that EIE would supplement and complement the online education through BBS. He said it is almost ready and would start from March 25.

The online education will be scripted for classes from PP-XII. The syllabus would be condensed and only prioritised topics would be included.

Department of Education’s director general, Karma Tshering, said teachers could explore E-learning, but shouldn’t rush. “Parents should monitor and students should be responsible to learn with the online teaching through BBS,” he said.

A teacher and a founder of V-ToB, Sonam Norbu said that for now the only one option to engage students through BBS. “If the closure extends, we can work with the government,” he said.  “Our initiative is only for engagement.”