The education conundrum

A complete closure would result in a significant learning loss, while reopening would entail a high risk

March 02, 2021

Millions of children, without proper internet or technological facilities, and a single channel — this is the current state of education in Pakistan amid Covid-19. But let’s be clear: the pandemic has not given rise to this learning crisis, instead it has merely aggravated it. With more than 22 million children currently out of school, the education system of the country has been in an abysmal state long before the pandemic even started, owing to corruption, mismanagement and negligence of authorities.

As the government still continues to struggle at finding a suitable solution to the conundrum, the general opinion about re-opening educational institutions remains polarised. Some believe education cannot wait while others are adamant that health comes before all else. However, after almost a year of fluctuating decisions, the Sindh government has gone against the Centre’s recent announcement of resuming all regular classes from March 1 and has instead decided to stick to its 50% attendance policy. With multiple children cramped up in small shabby classrooms and dilapidated school vans, constantly interacting with each other, it will become impossible to ensure social distancing at 100% attendance. In this regard, the 50% policy not only helps restrict the spread but it also gives students the flexibility of choosing either option. With over 200,000 schools in Pakistan, containing over 600,000 teachers and millions of students, the federal authorities need to consider the very real threat of a third wave which can easily ensue if curbs are lifted completely.

While the government remains in a quandary, choosing either of the two extreme options may prove to be detrimental. A complete closure would result in a significant learning loss, while reopening would entail a high risk. The solution to the riddle, which is at the junction of technology and social welfare, will only reveal itself if both institutions are uplifted and strengthened. In the meantime, the middle ground of 50% attendance seems to be an adequate choice.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2021.

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