The Covid-19 pandemic is intensifying pre-existing educational disparities in Pakistan by minimising access to education for many vulnerable and marginalised groups. A predictable count of 930,000 children is expected to drop out from secondary and primary education due to the pandemic, with an already 22.8 million of the school-going population being out of school. Pakistan is expected to have one of the highest dropout rates due to the pandemic. The current crisis radically reshaped our educational scenario, but we must not unreceptively sit back and not take action. Now is the time to undertake cooperative action for our future generation which has been severely affected by Covid-19. We need to bring innovative changes in our educational environment on an urgent basis to revitalise and recover learning attainments for the post-Covid generation.
In the current scenario, it becomes imperative to ask ourselves “what is teaching and learning for?” and this invites us to revisit our curriculum objectives, students’ learning outcomes, teaching pedagogy and assessment mechanisms. This is the right time to critically reflect on all the elements involved in teaching-learning processes and focus on the four pillars of learning: to know, to do, to be and to live together. We need to accept that successful teachers are irreplaceable in this mission — and will remain so in the coming future — but they need to be supported and equipped to be effective in retaining and regaining students’ presence in the learning milieu. Teacher effectiveness may be ensured by supporting their resilience. For this purpose, providing them job security, giving relevant trainings to enhance their digital literacy skills and equipping them with technology gadgets for effective remedial education will enhance their intrinsic motivation towards the cause. Teachers may not only be given ownership of technology gadgets but also be equipped in designing multiple types of assessments suitable for distance learning such as creative assignments and open-book quizzes to enhance students’ critical thinking skills. Furthermore, we need to train students to increase their computer self-efficacy.
Pakistan has about 76.38 million internet users, making it the 10th largest population of internet users in the world. The other side of the picture shows electricity disruptions limiting access to internet for long hours, especially in peripheries and rural areas. To counter this, we need to develop a wide range of distance learning tools such as radio programming, educational television to be used for hybrid mode for curricular activities and distribution of print material via surface mail for further endorsement. Low-tech and no-tech approaches must not be forgotten so that children from marginalised socio-economic groups are not left behind. Another point of consideration is to involve educated people from local community to guide and train parents for monitoring students’ learning activities when schools are out but classes are ongoing through online/distance learning modes. This will help reduce dropout rate during the current scenario as parents’ involvement may help them realise the importance of education for their children.
Last but not the least, the government needs to join hands with development partners and NGOs to strengthen digital infrastructure and lower connectivity costs to provide greater opportunity of inclusion for all learners. The situation we are facing demands that we must stay optimistic and keep education at the heart of the post-Covid world so that our children and youth regain their promised future and we move towards attaining the goal of sustainable, inclusive and quality education for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2021.