Learning losses

Closure of educational institutions across the globe is resulting in disruption of education at an unprecedented scale

The spread of coronavirus has not just altered social norms, challenged healthcare systems and hit economies hard, it has also disrupted education systems, impacting millions of students worldwide.

Closure of educational institutions across the globe is resulting in learning losses at an unprecedented scale. Around 40 million students enrolled in public and private sector education institutions of Pakistan have been affected.

The closure of educational institutions, in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, has delayed the start of the new academic year. The public school year begins in the first week of April in most parts of the country, including the Punjab. Also affected are students appearing in the secondary and high-secondary school exams given by the divisional boards in March and April, and O- and A-levels exams in May and June.

Sindh was the first province to announce the closure of schools. This was followed by the March 13 meeting of the National Security Committee presided over by the prime minister, which decided to close all educational institutions including private tuition centres in the country till April 5. However, a reopening of educational institutions from April 6 seems unlikely given the two-week shut-down announced since then.

On March 17, in the backdrop of the pandemic, the inter-provincial meeting on examination schedules decided to postpone all examinations including those given by universities, federal and provincial boards and foreign examinations including Cambridge exams till May 31.

All nine boards of intermediate and secondary education (BISEs) in the Punjab have postponed the ongoing secondary school certificate (class 9) exams. The practical portion of class 10 exams has also been postponed.

According to Shafqat Mahmood, the federal education minister, the local boards will now give the exams between June 1 and July 15.

Cambridge International, Edexcel and International Baccalaureate (IB) have cancelled their exams with announcements to award certificates based on teachers’ assessments. This has been met with mixed responses in Pakistan and elsewhere. Once things get clearer, issues related to equivalence are also likely to surface while financial aspects such as refunds would also become part of the discussion as services rendered after the cancellation of exams are far less costly.

Amir Riaz, a father of two, says one of his sons was appearing in the ongoing class 9 exams in Lahore while the other was preparing for O-level exams.

“I’m really worried. My kids were fully prepared. The postponement and cancellation of the exams have disturbed them and with the passage of time they are losing concentration,” he says while adding that awarding grades to students based on internal assessment was also worrying. “Previous performance doesn’t necessarily reflect a student’s true potential” he says. “Many students put in more effort ahead of final exams.”

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2018-19, of the around 40 million students enrolled in public and private sector educational institutions only around half a million are enrolled in technical and vocational institutions.

Around 24 million students are enrolled in primary institutions, followed by 7.6 million in middle, 4 million in secondary and over 1.5 million in higher-secondary schools. At the degree level, there are around 500,000 students enrolled in colleges while at the university level the total enrolment is around 1.9 million.

Going by these numbers the majority of the affected students are school children – over 35 million with around 13 million in public schools in the Punjab alone.

Saddamuddin, a schoolteacher from Kohat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says the new school year used to begin in the first week of April but now owing to the recent situation there is a lot of confusion. “Primary exams have also been postponed this time,” he adds.

University students appear to be the least affected as many universities are quickly moving to e-learning platforms to mitigate the disruption and to facilitate the continuity of information exchange.

Traditionally, the annual summer vacations start on June 1 and continue till August 14. This year, the Punjab government plans to cancel the annual summer break make up for lost time.

Ashfaq Khan, whose son goes to Lahore Model School, in Sant Nagar area in Lahore, agrees that the government should use summer vacation to protect students from further academic loss.

Dr Murad Raas, the Punjab minister for school education, says that while no final decision has been taken so far, the government is considering an extension in closure of schools till May 31. Speaking to The News on Sunday, he says that the government intends to utilise summer vacation for academic activities to cover for the learning loss of students.

The writer is a reporter at The News. He can be reached at [email protected]

Closure of educational institutions worldwide resulting in disruption of education at an unprecedented scale