The pandemic has brought sweeping changes to our lifestyles. It has impacted not only our private lives but also the public lives. One of the most important changes the Covid-19 brought is about the way we acquire education. As Covid-19 is an infectious disease and social distancing is required to control it, countries worldwide have shut down the educational institutes and have moved towards distance education, so has Pakistan. But does Pakistan have the necessary infrastructure to support this transition? The answer is no, and, in this article, we will try to find out what challenges the government is facing and what it can do to address those issues to ensure that all children can attend online classes.
Smooth transition to online education is, no doubt, a humongous task. Several factors need to be kept in mind before proceeding. Few of these factors include the availability of online platforms at both ends, trained teachers for online classes, course readiness for online learning, and students’ readiness to learn online. In Private schools, colleges, and universities, this transition is easier; however, it becomes difficult when it comes to public sector schools and colleges.
There is no doubt that the pandemic caught everyone by surprise, and the transition was rather quick; the developing capacity of educational institutions was going to take some time. As the pandemic does not seem to go away in the foreseeable future, the aim should be to save the children’s education cycle. Promising efforts from all concerned quarters emerged, but this is not enough. The government also launched a tele-education channel to keep the students in touch with their studies. But is this sufficient? Is this effective? Will students be able to learn? As of now, this seems implausible.
On the technological front, the foremost challenge is the unavailability of the internet. According to a report published by Data Reportal in February 2020, the internet penetration percentage in Pakistan is merely 35 percent. This means that around two-third population does not have access to quality internet. In this regard, some remote areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, South Punjab, and Gilgit Baltistan are the worst affected. This makes it impossible for students of these regions to benefit from online education. For instance, the story of Ahmed, a university student from Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which are now a part of KPK, is not unknown to many. He has to climb to the highest mountain of the area to catch sufficient signals to submit the online assignments, and even this small file of few megabytes takes hours to upload. There are many more such stories of students who are suffering due to the unavailability of necessary infrastructure to support their online learning.
The transition to online education was rather a hasty one because institutions did not get enough time to train their faculty. This sudden transition exposed the teachers to new challenges for which they were not ready. The teachers who were not accustomed to online education found it difficult to communicate with the students effectively and effectively conduct online classes. According to Ms. Nadia Naviwala, approximately 60 percent of the teachers in The Citizens’ Foundation (TCF) Schools have access to internet data. Even among them, most of the teachers did not have the skills to use it.
Moreover, some teachers also showed reluctance to adopt the new learning method because they were not accustomed to it as they had been teaching traditionally throughout their lives. Due to these challenges, the provision of online education became a challenge from the institutions’ end. But the question arises, who was at a loss here? The students, of course.
Another challenge is behavioral and societal limitations. Most of the students and even teachers are skeptical about this new medium of education. Due to this, they have low acceptance levels for online education. Moreover, the elders are suspicious about the use of technological gadgets for education and learning purposes, and to be honest, this is uncalled for. Similarly, most of the students do not have individual spaces due to joint family systems and small houses. The undisciplined lifestyles further exacerbate the situation. All these issues culminate into a loss of learning for the students.
However, there is a silver lining in the form of a political will being showed by the government. The government is serious about ensuring a smooth transition to provide quality online education. No doubt, it has done well to come up with alternative solutions like tele-education quickly, but it needs to focus on the long term to ensure quality and equity education for all students. In this regard, it needs to develop a comprehensive e-learning policy framework and implement it in full spirit. Provision of internet facilities and technological gadgets like laptops and pads to deserving students is also of paramount importance. Similarly, public and private institutions must train their teachers so that they can effectively transmit their knowledge and skills to the students. If undertaken carefully, these developments will ensure that all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, get quality online education without exposing themselves to this deadly virus.