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August 11, 2020

A silver lining?

Opinion

August 11, 2020

Covid-19 took the world by storm in early 2020, and while every segment of the economy has been hit hard by its impact, arguably, one of the worst affected has been the education sector.

More than 90 percent of students all over the world have faced closure of their educational institutions, in governments’ efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic. While this has led to an unprecedented disruption of assessments and promotions, for a low income country like Pakistan, it could well be a blessing in disguise as it forces its educational institutions to invest in much-needed technological upgrades and teacher training.

When schools in Pakistan were closed in March, there was a sudden scramble by educational institutions to train teachers and students alike in the use of online learning tools, like Google Classroom and Zoom. There were numerous hurdles initially, as many teachers lacked the technological knowledge and not all students had access to a working internet connection.

According to an article in Nature magazine, June 2020, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan ‘has been working to standardize online teaching and to get telecommunication companies to offer students cheaper mobile-broadband packages.’ Tariq Burani, chairman of the HEC, explains, ‘We’re doing this in the context of the virus, but we think these actions will have longer-term benefits, such as producing students who are better trained for technological jobs.’

In a bid to address the concerns of out-of-school children and their parents, particularly those belonging to remote areas or the lower income group without access to internet facilities, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in April 2020, inaugurated the first dedicated educational TV channel in Pakistan, Teleschool. The channel, a collaboration between PTV and the Ministry of Education, is aired across the country by satellite and cable, to provide access to online education from grade one to twelve.

Again, this is a very positive initiative that must be continued post Covid-19, since for a country like Pakistan, the most effective way to improve literacy is by linking technology and education to ensure wider accessibility at an affordable price.

E-schooling can be pivotal in improving Pakistan’s low literacy rate, as it is a practical way to bridge the huge class difference that exists as far as access to a quality education is concerned. In fact, given Pakistan’s lack of resources in terms of qualified teachers, premises and supplies, e-schooling may well be the only feasible way of ensuring access to a standardized education for all students.

As the government continues work on the Single National Curriculum (SNC) with the aim of ‘providing fair and equal opportunity for all children of Pakistan’, it must keep in mind the critical role technology can play in achieving this objective and integrate e-learning as a vital part of the education system. In this context, it may recruit celebrities to develop local programming on the pattern of educational shows, such as Sesame Street, to be aired on the Teleschool channel.

Pakistan’s budding technology sector can be encouraged to develop apps to promote online learning from digital platforms. Lectures on various topics, pre-recorded and uploaded online, can be an invaluable resource for students. However, the key to success in this area will be the availability of reliable, cheap internet access across the country and teacher training.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about changes in our way of delivering educational content that may represent a permanent shift in the future of education all over the world. Blessed with one of the world’s youngest populations, Pakistan must grab this opportunity to revolutionize its educational sector and launch its new generation into a digital age.

The writer is a student.

Email: [email protected]