Covid-19 laid bare gender, digital inequalities: report

Recommends devising policies, programmes to support learning of all children


Our Correspondent October 21, 2021
The word "Covid-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

The intermittent school closures and pandemic-induced restrictions have impacted nearly 40 million students from grade pre-primary to higher secondary while the enrolment at schools decreased by two per cent in 2021, a study released on Wednesday said.

Titled ‘Measuring learning losses due to Covid-19’, the wide-ranging study was inaugurated by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and compiled by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in joint collaboration with UNICEF.

The report aims to assist the federal government in collecting gender-disaggregated and focused evidence as it scrambles for an effective response to the pandemic in terms of preventing learning losses.

Weighing in on the costs and benefits of the restrictions used to battle the coronavirus, the report regrets that the disruption in the educational practices impacted all public and private sector institutions after their closures in mid-March 2020, adding that it laid bare digital and gender inequities in the social structures.

“The massive disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic severely affected the education and prospects of children, with school closures extending for more than a year in the context of an already weak education system,” the report regrets.

According to the report, based on the survey of 9,392 households, 25,448 children aged three to 16 and 21,589 children aged five to 16, enrolment for age group six-16 has dropped by 2% in the current year as compared to enrolment for the same age group in 2019.

The report also notes that during school closures many parents/caregivers stepped up to support their children’s learning. “Support from household members is reported at 64% by children as a very positive response.”

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The study found that while 50 per cent of fathers were reported to have no education, 69 per cent of mothers were educated enough to teach their children. Similarly, while only two per cent of mothers were found to have completed undergraduate education, six per cent of fathers were college graduates.

Further, the report observed that while 40 per cent of children with smartphones in the home switched to e-learning, younger children received less time to access gadgets than older children. “Fifty-five per cent of children do not feel confident to study on their own if school closures reoccur.”

Gender disparity

The report points out that Pakistan’s longstanding gender-related inequities in education were broadly reflected in the surveyed children. For both age groups – three–five-year-olds and six–16-year-olds – enrolment for boys (58 per cent and 61 per cent) is significantly higher than for girls (42 per cent and 39 per cent).

Girls experienced greater learning losses than boys during the Covid-19 school closures across nearly all competencies and classes. This served to halt or even reverse an existing increasing trend in learning outcomes for girls who had, in some cases, outdid boys.

Dropouts

The report highlights that Covid-19 drove many households into financial hardships leading to an increase in dropouts from five to six per cent. While the overall enrolment status of children aged three to 16 shows that 1% of children dropped out during the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of percentage change, this shows a 20 per cent increase in dropouts.

While welcoming the government’s active measures to remedy the pandemic’s fallout, the report recommends that policies and programmes must be devised to support the learning of all children and focus on young children and girls.

“The factors that lead to education inequities must be tackled, such as through social protection programmes for girls’ education and targeted support for children in the poorest households using low-tech and no-tech modalities,” it added.

On the occasion, Mahmood said that Covid-19 has exacerbated the already existing challenge of learning poverty.

“The learning losses study will help the government work towards improving the learning levels of children in coordination with provincial governments,” he said.

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