The tech innovation called EdTech

Educational ecosystems struggle to ensure timely and appropriate provision of education to cope with the lockdowns

Arfa Shahid June 24, 2021
The writer is an education expert and a consultant at Unicef. She can be reached at [email protected]

With the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps a silent pandemic that followed in its footsteps was the havoc that would ensue on the provision of education across the globe. Educational ecosystems struggled to rise to the occasion and ensure timely and appropriate provision of education to cope with the lockdowns that were implemented almost uniformly across the world. Some countries were better equipped to deal with the crisis owing either to a limited population or to a sound technological base already in place which was swiftly mobilised to deal with the distance learning modalities that had to be adapted. But others like Pakistan had a wider problem to deal with. An already flailing economy to cater to a population of over 200 million, with 24.3% of the said number living under the poverty line, only about 15% having access to the internet, and only about 43% possessing a smart phone, it was difficult to devise a strategy that could help curb the educational crisis that was building up in the country.

Consecutive school closures meant that students were deprived of the learning flow that had persisted before the said closures. The government truly stepped in with a diverse set of initiatives, often also in partnership with other institutions within the Pakistani educational ecosystem. Distance learning using technological innovation, herewith termed EdTech, was rapidly adapted to in a way that guaranteed access. There were two spectrums on which these initiatives played out. Considering the limited access to the internet within Pakistan, low-tech initiatives, too, were adopted to cater to a wider expanse. In terms of the low-tech initiatives, TeleSchool and Radio School were launched for students across the nation. While internet access only covers about 15% of the population, roughly 70% of the population has access to a television set and 96% of the population has access to the radio.

The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT), while keeping this in mind, launched the said initiatives in collaboration with Digital Pakistan. Parents could simply subscribe to getting updates regarding class schedules for both the Radio and TeleSchool by texting on 8228. Content was aired every day for classes I to VIII. An interesting feature for both these initiatives is that in case of having missed a lecture, students can access recorded lectures which have been thematically uploaded according to difficulty level on the official MoFEPT website. The content is innovative and crisp which immediately grasps the attention of viewers regardless of their age. The focus has been on literacy and numeracy in these programmes. The E-Taleem portal on the MoFEPT website has more than just these recorded lectures on show. The portal features digital platforms which the ministry has developed in collaboration with SABAQ Foundation, Knowledge Platform, and Taleemabad to name a few. These platforms offer interactive games, cartoons, infotainment series, and recorded lectures which have all been designed to help students recover from learning losses accrued during the pandemic. One specific EdTech initiative which is particularly unique is the E-Taleem Portal inclusive education section. The ministry partnered up with WonderTree to design content which caters exclusively to the needs of differently abled students for the development of their cognitive and motor skills.

It is thus safe to say that the MoFEPT has covered all basis in terms of devising strategies to help combat the lags that have occurred within the system in the wake of the pandemic. Not only have they succeeded in devising mechanisms that impart knowledge efficiently, but they have done so in a way that is interactive and fun. While narratives surrounding inefficiencies of the Pakistani state’s response are often found circulating in the media, perhaps it’s time to give credit where it is due.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2021.

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