Even though the country adapted quickly to different technologies to continue education even as the spread of the novel coronavirus forced educational institutions to be closed, it highlighted other forms of disparity in access to education in the country apart from widening pre-existing ones.
This was highlighted by speakers during a policy discussion on “Education in the Covid-19 era and beyond”. The discussion had been organised by the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) as part of its 11th annual convention in Islamabad on Thursday.
PCE National Coordinator Zehra Arshad kicked off the discussion with an overview of the educational landscape of the country during the pandemic. She highlighted how Pakistan’s shift towards e-learning and online digital educational platforms may have helped soften the blow while it may have also unveiled and magnified pre-existing inequalities in the national education system.
Online education, Arshad said, further exacerbated accessibility issues in education due to the unavailability of broadband access in most parts of the country, especially for children who do not belong to privileged backgrounds.
In the case of women, she said that cultural and social barriers further restricted the access of girls and women to any form of information technology. Although the government’s Teleschool initiative was timely and smart, considering the chosen medium, it is important to realise that a sizable student population either cannot afford a television or have been forced into labour or domestic chores as a result of the pandemic, she said.
The first panel focused on the state of education with respect to Article 25-A and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.
Pakistan Youth Change Advocates Executive Director Areeba Shahid shared findings of a recent publication on out-of-school-girls.
Zafarullah Khan, the former executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS) emphasised a standardised government education system.
BoloBhi Director Usama Khilji said that internet facilities in rural areas are scarce and that the Universal Service Fund (USF) must be used to provide modern internet connectivity to remote regions.
He further said that government teachers must be trained to use platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2020.
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