Yangchen C Rinzin  

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said it was not compulsory to teach students through e-learning and there was never a government directive asking to do so.

He emphasised, however, there was a need for students to continue learning.

This is the second time Lyonchhen has clarified the confusion surrounding e-learning in the wake of Covid-19 cases in the country. Following the closure of schools due to the pandemic since March 5 there have been hues and cries among teachers and parents on e-learning in different schools.

There are complaints on social media that children are bogged down with assignments. Some do not have access to internet or gadgets that facilitate e-learning. Many also complained that data charges were exorbitant.

Different schools have tried online education or e-learning through google classrooms and G Suite. Some of the schools are using social media applications like Wechat or WhatsApp where teachers assign students to read certain chapters and send questions. The children are then asked to answer the questions and send picture of their answers.

Many students in the remote parts of the country lack access to internet. Some do not own smartphone or television set. Parents are unable to afford gadgets to facilitate e-learning.  Parents say that the new teaching method adopted by schools was more of like distance education where students are provided a list of reading materials, a chapter from textbooks without explaining basic concepts.

Working parents are also faced with problems. They find it difficult to monitor and help children learn. A mother of an 11-year-old, Yangki, said students were given several assignments and always landed up doing homework late into the night.

“We appreciate that teachers are trying to help and are doing their best, but they could reduce the assignment or questions,” she said.

Many also shared teachers should not evaluate students based on e-Learning, as some are doing.

Another parent, Tshering Dendup, said: “Schools can pick up from lessons from where it was left before March 5. More than considering to complete syllabus, the priority is the dire situation Covid-19 has created.”

Many, however, are of the view that such an initiative could be continued as learning experience and to contribute towards innovating e-learning platform and teacher-learning approach.

Considering the concerns raised by people, Lyonchhen said that the government might have to look into developing standard operating procedures on how to keep students engaged through e-learning.

“We did not give any directive to teach children through e-learning but teachers came forward with such initiatives for the well-being students,” Lyonchhen said. “Complaints indicate that parents are bogged down and should understand the value of teachers.”

Lyonchhen said there was no clear information on how to carry out e-learning.

“I do not support teaching through Wechat or WhatsApp although I support e-learning,” Lyonchhen said. “We’ll have to have one policy on how to go with e-learning.”

Lyonchhen expressed concerns that the government might have to look into how to cover such gaps so that children have access to e-learning.

However, an official from the education ministry, during a live interview, clarified that teachers should not give any assignments or homework through e-learning.

Official said that instead children could be helped or monitored and ensure they watch e-learning through Bhutan Broadcasting Service which began from yesterday. This is mainly to keep students engaged.

Education ministry issued a guideline to all the teacher yesterday stating that because of the need to prioritise the intent of the curriculum during an emergency situation, the schools for time being should stop teaching prescribed curriculum.

Teachers should instead implement Education in Emergency developed by Royal Education Council based on thematic approach and curriculum for respective key stages.

Many people also suggested that should the situation persist beyond April, the government should consider changing the school cycle. Some suggested making use of weekends and summer and winter vacations to continue school.

Others say that if worse comes to worst classes could be called off for the whole year because the priority right now is to keep students save.

“But education ministry can continue to engage students through online lessons. Losing one academic year will not have any major impact on the child,” a parent said.

Meanwhile, schools across the country are collecting data on how many students have access to internet, smart phones, and  television.