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June 30, 2020

Crisis brewing

Opinion

June 30, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of people’s lives globally. We are witnessing a significant change not just in the way normal daily activities are carried out but also in consumer behaviors and expectations.

The shifts have been bittersweet for the world in general. Where the pandemic has affected numerous industries and caused countless people to lose their jobs, it has simultaneously paved the way for growth of e-commerce and tech-based companies all while enabling people to move towards a digital lifestyle.

While, in terms of carrying out our life and day-to-day activities, most people have adjusted, some fundamental aspects of life still remain unresolved. Education, for instance, is a primary area of concern at the moment. Globally, 188 countries have closed educational institutions leaving an estimated 1.6 billion students out of schools.

For Pakistan, education has always been a challenge. Since the day we became a nation-state, we have been facing hurdles in ensuring that all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend and learn in school. Education can be equated with shelter, health and food. It is a critical need which defines the character, personality and future prospects of an individual. The need for education, if left unaddressed, can have a detrimental impact on just individuals but the entire fabric of society. It possesses the power to make or break states in the long run.

According to a research by Unicef, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 percent of the total population in this age group. If that’s not alarming on its own, what is?

While we are struggling to provide quality education to a significant chunk of Pakistani children, Covid-19 has exacerbated an existing issue revealing further chinks in our armor. With schools and educational institutes being closed, we are trying to pivot towards a more progressive model of learning.

Online education, a concept which has already been adopted by the majority of the first world countries, is being experimented with various institutions across the country as a last resort. Governments around the world have taken immediate necessary measures to mitigate the brewing crisis, all while safeguarding students’ and nations’ futures. Technological advancement, robust economies and priorities towards the education sector in general have lowered the risk of impairment. However, that is not the case with Pakistan.

While students attending private institutes may be privileged enough to have the necessary means required for online/digital education such as computers, tablets, internet connectivity, mics and webcams etc, most of the students (especially those in public schools) do not have access to these amenities. Most of these families have a hard time providing essential means at their households to begin with. With this fundamental factor, sadly the benefits of e-learning and online classes can only be reaped by the upper-middle and higher class families.

In recent events, the World Bank is in process of providing Pakistan with a $200 million loan for strengthening both federal and provincial governments. This tranche was originally aimed at reducing the impact of external shocks on the education system all while increasing access to quality education in unprivileged districts of the country. Similarly, Rs64 billion and Rs 4.5 billion have been allocated to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) respectively.

Ideally, the combined amount should work in a federal-to-provincial performance based model which would offer both financial support and on-demand technical assistance to provinces based on their segmented needs, especially in the most disadvantaged areas in the country. However, the way budgets and aid are generally spent in the country, it is most likely to be scattered into the relevant federal ministries and then dispersed who knows where.

In order to successfully avoid this impending crisis, Pakistan needs to develop stringent policies in collaboration with the private sector working in education. Simultaneously, the private sector needs to let go of their profit-making exercises and stand tall in supporting the government with technical and infrastructural support. Additionally, billions of rupees which were contributed from conglomerates to the Prime Minister’s COVID Relief Fund should also be added in order to purchase the technical support required to educate the lower class families of the nation.

Possibly, a pertinent remedy needed at this moment is for both public and private educational institutes to pay attention to the feedback of newer education models being implemented since our students and teachers aren’t familiar with it. An online platform, monitored by the federal department, should be made at the earliest for students to lodge their complaints and suggestions. Similarly, extra attention is required by parents to make sure children are reaping the benefits of online learning and not taking advantage of the absence of a physical classroom and teacher.

The pandemic has brought an unforeseen and unfortunate situation which third world countries were definitely not prepared for. Considering this unprecedented scenario, the need to embrace a positive, futuristic and attainable approach is required by the government, the HEC and private universities in order to safeguard the future of countless students in Pakistan.

The writer is a communications professional.

Email: [email protected]