“There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” – Albert Camus
The Plague’s relevance amidst the modern day’s pandemic is astounding as the world stands at a near halt. From the everyday activities of a common man to the functioning of governments, the COVID-19 has caused disruption and deaths not from war but from a disease that has shaken nations to their core.
Moreover, the fast and undetected transfer of the COVID-19 in and around China alerted Pakistan in the nick of time. Earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and HEC of Pakistan faced criticism over their reluctant response towards the Pakistani students quarantined in China as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak in the province, making them the first students to be affected by the new pandemic.
Furthermore, with the spread of COVID-19 into Pakistan, educational institutions across the country were promptly ordered to suspend their regular academic activities keeping in view the safety of the students.
In addition, as the country enters nearly a month of a partial to complete lockdown and total suspension of educational institutions, it faces an unprecedented challenge to cope with re-adjusting its academic year. However, Pakistan is not the only country facing the staggering impact of COVID-19 on education. According to the latest figures released by UNESCO, an estimate of 87% of the student population across 165 countries is facing school and university closure. Moreover, around 1.5 billion students in the world are unable to attend educational institutions due to the measures taken to stop the spread of the COVID-19.
The report further shows that 1,524,648,768 (87.1% of total enrolled learners) are affected learners around the global. In Pakistan, the number of affected learners or students stands at 46,803,407 reported figure. In a further breakdown of the number of student affectees at pre-primary level are 8,636,383, at secondary of 13,357,618 and at tertiary level of about 1,878,101. However, this is not the first time that Pakistan has practiced closure of schools. Schools on a provincial level were previously forced shut just months ago due to smog that gripped most parts of Pakistan.
It is prudent to mention that Pakistan already has a high number of children who are out of schools. With frequent school closures, lack of infrastructure and poverty; Pakistan’s education system stands at a critical point. While it ensures access to education and bringing back the out of school children, Pakistan needs to strategize and modernize its education policy urgently. While the COVID-19 is a testing time for Pakistan, it can learn from the challenges that are emerging to prepare for a better future.
Lessons for Pakistan:
Pakistan continues to solve many of its problems with temporary solutions. While the government remains concerned about the overall state of education in the country, closure of schools during smog should have been taken as a test to cope with uncertain circumstances or natural calamities that may force to halt access to education.
So, Pakistan must work to digitize its education system while also increasing its internet accessibility. While Pakistan’s higher education may have been able to shift online, it still exposed the loopholes in the policy as many students remain unable to participate in the online programs. Lamentably, Pakistan lacks the culture of online full-time studying, and lack of accessibility further hinders the progress of virtual education.
Additionally, in a country where access to internet is around 36.8%, transferring higher education online limits the number of students who can participate. In its annual report, the Economist Intelligence Unit has placed Pakistan at 76th out of 100 countries in terms of availability, affordability and people’s ability to use the web.
Although schools and colleges have been asked to promote all students to the next grades and not to fail the students; this too is a temporary fix to a problem that is bound to disturb the entire academic calendar, yet the only decent compensation. As Pakistan is likely to face smog during the winter months after the COVID-19 is tackled, the policy of closing down schools only provides a temporary solution to the impending problems.
Moreover, In order to curb such problems in the future, Pakistan must modernize the means of education and the access to technology, including the internet, in the most far off places of the country.
Pakistan must look at how the African countries like Sierra Leone during the time of Ebola, where lessons were broadcasted over Radio and Television. This required lesser dependency on the internet and computers while making use of the existing means of communication.
In addition, to ensure that the internet is within the access of the masses, Pakistan must give incentives to the telecommunication companies to improve their internet services and to cover maximum areas of the country. The same companies can then be provided with pre-planned lessons from different schools and universities to ensure that students are able to continue learning even offline.
Furthermore, the educational institutions can partner with digital networks to provide a channel for exclusive digital education. While examinations need physical presence, this process too needs innovation and shift towards digitization. If such mechanisms are devised and tested during these days, they can be utilized in case of conflict or any other emergency including smog in the future.
The issue of COVID-19 also exposes the lack of scientific research in the country where higher education institutions play a crucial role. More funds should be directed for the purpose of research and innovation but the quality must be ensured by the government.
The world post-COVID-19 will drastically change the ways and means of education and learning. It is also a high time for Pakistan to brace for the transformation that is about to hit the education sector.
Conclusively, as the government struggles to manage the overall crisis caused by the COVID-19, it should not reopen educational institutions unless they are properly equipped to adhere to the safety guidelines. However, it is also a good time for the Ministry of Education along with the other stakeholders to prove their genuine commitment to education – a sector that has otherwise become a source of making big bucks at the cost of learning.
Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst on media and foreign policy of Pakistan. She is also a feature editor at Academia Magazine. She tweets @MsAishaK.
Originally Posted on Matrix Mag