Towards Computer Literacy
Published in CORE Jul/Aug, 1995
Now that in the twentieth century, when computers have ceased to be something that people stand in profound admiration of, and has be come an everyday household term even in Nepal, should we not start thinking about what actually has been achieved in the direction o computer science and computer education? Well assuming that we should, where would we start? The answer probably would be right from the schools. The abundance of schools that have introduced computer education in their curriculum itself is reason enough to start right from there.
According to a survey conducted by CORE, computer education started in schools from 1 986. It has nearly been a decade now. Analyzing this short history, one comes to the conclusion that the introduction of computers in schools was not an innovative idea of a great pedagogue, but partly enforced dictation of time itself and partly business. The competition between schools in attracting more and more students resulted in more and more schools introducing computers and now, strictly speaking of schools in Kathmandu valley, you probably will have to search hard for a private school that does not have it. However, quantity does not guarantee quality. One basic principle of pedagogy that our policy makers and "pedagogues" successfully overlook all the time is that there is a big difference between education and schooling. Schooling can be bought but education cannot. And when there is a big competition between institutions to legitimately force education into the business sector, can we really talk about education here? The proof that we cannot is right there. The survey by CORE came across such children that have learnt by heart all the procedure of working with one package or the other but have never really come in contact with the computer itself! This survey speaks out the facts.
Computer courses in schools started from the year 1986. Despite the rule of imitation in every sector of business in Nepal, it took a long time for other schools to follow the first ones. As the price of computers slashed down, more schools started introducing computer classes, and the scene now is that it is hard to find a single school that is not willing to introduce computers or for that matter hasn't introduced one. The chart below shows the growing number of schools introducing computer education each year.
There are places in the world where children are exposed to computer education right from their very first year in school. There is no hard and fast rule as such to start computer class in school. According to a seminar organized by the Computer Association of Nepal, computer classes start as early as from Class 2 in Nepal. The survey conducted by the CORE could not trace that particular school, however, we found a school that provides computer education from class 3.
In most of the schools, computer education starts from Grade 6 -just about the right time to get familiar to computing! The number of schools starting computer class rises in Grade 7 and 8 and comes down in Grades 9 and 10. The reason for decreasing the number in Grade 9 and 10 is probably the SLC examination. Computer course is not a compulsory subject for SLC, board examination.
Post SLC Computer Education
After the completion of SLC, there is no faculty under the national education system which offers computer science course. So, where do the students go to continue their education? As far as higher education on computer science is concerned, there is no single course for computer science offered by the Tribhuvan Univeristy as there are for other subjects such as science, commerce, and geography . Computer science has been incorporated in the regular curriculum of the Engineering for both intermediate and bachelor’s level. Recently, a few privately-run 10+2 schools started providing courses on computer science. The Kathmandu University has begun a Bachlor's Level course in Mathematics and Computing.
For mid-level manpower on computer, Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) has been given the responsibility to formulate a strategy to provide computer education and training. So far CTEVT has nor come up with any concrete strategy in this regard. If CTEVT can bring in a suitable programme, it will help meet the requirement of mid-level computer manpower of Nepal.
Up to class eight:
As different schools are introducing computer classes in different levels, course structures for classes up to Grade 8 vary from school to school. Individual schools develop the course structure themselves with the help of some external experts. However, the total coverage of the course is similar in most of the schools. General outline of the course structure followed by most schools are as follows:
Fundamentals of Computer ( history, classifications, peripherals), Number System, Typing tutor, DOS, Word processing( Word Perfect, Word Str, Win Word and in Devnagari), Data processing(dBase III plus), Spreadsheet(Lotus 123), Flowchart, Programming languages ( Logo, BASIC and C), Windows, LAN, WAN, Virus, and educational games.
In class nine and ten:
National Education System has computer education as an optional subject for S.L.C. board exams since 1994. the course of study for computer science has recently been revised. The objectives of the new syllabus of this couse are given below.
Study of the objectives and the syllabus appears to he appropriately designed. However, the teaching methodology will partly govern Ihe quality of the education. The computer course is a full unit course in S.L.C. The examination of the course comprises of practical and theory examination. 75% of the full mark is given to the theory and only 25 % is given to the practical.
How is the general comment on the course structure developed by the government?
Not all the schools have been able to incorporate the new and revised syllabus as yet. Which is a pity. The comments received on the course structure are quite diverse.
“The government syllabus includes the software application packages popular in the local market. It will make students computer operators”, react many schools. " Syllabus is not clear enough as how to teach or how far to go on a particular area." is another comment found in common.
Practical Vs theory class:
Understanding Computer Science needs a balanced approach of theoretical concepts and hands on practice on the machine. Learning process becomes more effective through the practical experiments of the acquired knowledge.
There is nearly equal distribution of time for theory and practical session for computer course in most of the schools. The practical classes are generally limited by the resources available in the schools.
'The text books "Understanding Computer Science" by P. Mishra, "Computer- Concept Series" by R.C. Khanal, "Computer Science Vol. 1 & 2" by Vikash Sharma and "Computer Bigyan Vol. 1 & 2" by Hari Gopal Shrestha and Prakash Raj Singh Suwal are widely used. Those by R.C. Khanal are more popular.
The books in general give good coverage to aspects of computer science for school level students. There are some general suggestions from schools to further improve the books. "The books by R.C.Khanal are good but the theoretical chapters are vast than practical. It is our view that some theory based chapters are not necessary"
"My son learns WordPerfect in school, he is taught to press ALT and F3 to ‘reveal codes’. He learns such things by heart. He has not even touched a computer till now”, says a parent in an informal talk. It may appear as a bit of exaggeration, but not very far from reality.
Number of students/computer
In some schools, the number of students per computer in practical session is as high as 10. However, there are schools that offer one compuer for every 2 students also. With such a wide variation, the average number of students per computer in practical classes is 4 according to our survey. We believe that this is -a very poor figure. 4 students sharing one computer and having one or two practical sessions a week - how long does each student practice in a whole academic year? 20 hours?
Types of computers
Almost all schools are teaching in IBM/Compatible machines. There are schools that use upto 486DX machines, and at the same time there are few that are using XTs. Most of the schools are using 286 machines - more than 50% of them without harddisks. And you know the pain of using a 286 with floppy disk. A couple of schools have an entire range of computers from XTs to 486 DX. In a way it is an advantage if the students have access to all those computers - they will learn how the technology has advanced.
Power backup and networking
About 20X of the schools use power backup facilities and 10% of the schools have done networking.
Number of computers
It is hard to believe, but true, that one school can have ONE computer solely dedicated for computer education, and "successfully" run computer classes! We have the proof! The schools that have 2 computers in total must be doing better than the one having only ONE. With schools having upto 41 computers, the average number computers per school, however, stands as 12.
Now! Our scene is: a class room with about 12 computers. Most of them are 286. About 6 or 7 computers without hard disk. 4 students crowded around each computer: the smartest one handling the keyboard, the one next to him assisting to find the proper keys, and the dull ones glaring at the bright monitor. They certainly cannot do anything without the help of the instructors. Our survey shows that there are 2 – 3 instructors on average in each school. Taking the better figure, it appears that an instructor is handling 16 students in a practical session, ands assuming each session to be of 45 minutes- each student can get attention of his/her instructor for not more than 3 minutes on average per period!!
Have you heard about the statistician who will have his head in the oven and feet in the fridge, and will be feeling fine on average' Well, the average figure projects the scenario, not the EXTREMES. The facilities arc really POOR, which means most of the schools have II, improve, but we must admit that there are a couple of schools that already have adequate Facilities For the students.
Tracking Teachers and Instructors
While instructors for popular packages like WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBASE were in demand, we used to hear that people learning a package in one institute used to teach the same package in another institute! The course coverage given by most of tile schools is not very different from what is being undertaken in the computer institutes in town. and so are the instructors The academic qualifications of most of the teachers (who teach computer science in the schools) are graduates Almost ail of them had either basic packages training or a Post graduate Diploma in computer science from the local computer institutes. Some have done tile training course from Indian institutes too A couple of schools also, have computer engineer and computer science graduates! BUT of the teachers have a pedagogical qualification or training to teach computer science in schools.
Without any strict guidelines about the course, and about the qualification of the instructors, there is a wide variation in tile coverage of the subject, reaching methodology, the standard and quality of computer education given in different schools.
All the information on this article is based on a survey conducted by CORE during Apr- Jun, 1995