Covid-19 led to learning crisis for primary schoolchildren, says study

October 23, 2021

School closures during the Covid-19 pandemic have severely impacted school education and led to a learning crisis for primary schoolchildren in Pakistan, reveals a recent study titled...

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School closures during the Covid-19 pandemic have severely impacted school education and led to a learning crisis for primary schoolchildren in Pakistan, reveals a recent study titled ‘Measuring the Impact of Covid-19 on Education in Pakistan’ that was conducted by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi.

To understand the extent of the issue and to develop a body of evidence to inform future policy directions, Unicef Pakistan supported the study focusing particularly on learning losses due to school closures and the measures taken to support learning for school-going children.

The report reads that the pandemic had an adverse impact on education globally, while students and educators in Pakistan also experienced the same. After the sudden school closures in 2020 and early 2021, the survey was conducted in 16 rural districts of Pakistan: four each in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

A total of 9,392 households with 25,448 children aged three to 16 years were surveyed, including 21,589 children aged five to 16 years, with 43 per cent of them girls and 57 per cent boys. Learning assessments for the English, Urdu, Sindhi and Pashto languages, and arithmetic competencies were conducted for children aged five to 16 years.

As many as 457 state-run schools and 198 privately managed schools were surveyed to assess their capacity and readiness to adhere to government guidelines on safe school reopening.

The districts included in the survey were Quetta, Bolan, Gwadar and Awaran from Balochistan; Peshawar, Chitral, South Waziristan and Torghar from KP; Muzaffargarh, Sheikhupura, Bhakkar and Jhelum from Punjab; and Malir (Karachi), Sukkur, Tharparkar and Dadu from Sindh.

Learning levels were the highest in the surveyed districts of Punjab, followed by KP and Sindh, and the lowest in Balochistan, while learning losses were the highest in the surveyed districts of Balochistan, followed by Punjab, Sindh and KP. Low-performing and high-performing districts on the Alif Ailaan ranking from 2017 experienced the greatest learning losses.

The study states that 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, outdone boys.

Children who attend government schools showed greater decline in learning than private schools during the period in which the school closures occurred. About 60 per cent of the children currently enrolled in school spent less than an hour a day on their studies during the school closures.

While 40 per cent of the children with smartphones at home used these for learning, younger children received less time to access these than older children. Also, around 55 per cent of the children do not feel confident to study on their own if school closures reoccur. About 32 per cent of the children reported that they watched educational broadcasts through PTV’s Teleschool programmes. While Teleschool’s outreach is notable, its impact is unclear.

The study also reveals that among households with access to television, 54.5 per cent responded to not have used PTV Teleschool as a support to children’s learning. This illustrates the differences that exist between individuals and social groups not only in terms of access to technologies but also in terms of their capacity to benefit from the use of technology, with low digital literacy and/or low digital motivation.

Social protection outreach to households increased for the 16 districts from 10.4 per cent in 2019 to 11.4 per cent in 2021 through the Benazir Income Support Programme, the Ehsaas Programme, the Punjab Social Protection Authority and the Akhuwat programme.

Given the expansion of targeted social protection instruments for education over the Covid-19 period from the early years to primary, secondary and post-secondary, this could be an important linkage to offset learning and access deprivation to those most in need, ensuring at least 50 per cent are girls through a lifelong approach.

Younger children, who have not yet built a foundation for learning, are more vulnerable to learning losses. Pakistan’s crisis of learning is rooted in a deeper crisis of equity: girls, as well as children from lower wealth backgrounds and certain geographical regions, suffer the greatest learning losses in Pakistan.

The study recommends that policies and programmes must be devised to support the learning of all children, with special 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.

A new social compact for learning is needed to build connections between families, communities and schools to collectively support children’s schooling. EdTech (educational technology) should be explored for its potential to provide solutions for innovative learning.

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