Pakistan last week opened public and private schools in various districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with Sindh province opening its schools in August.
Schools now operate with a 50% alternating day attendance policy due to COVID regulations set out by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC). Vaccinations have also been made compulsory for all staff and students over 15 years of age.
Schools in Pakistan were closed for about seven months during the first wave of COVID. However, they reopened in September 2020 and were closed again shortly thereafter the following November.
The government announced another gradual opening of educational institutions in January this year. However, this reopening was also short-lived, as schools closed again in April 2021 due to the third wave.
Authorities have introduced digital learning methods to compensate for repeated shutdowns. Recently, the Ministry of Education also decided to promote some failed students by giving them 33% concessional marks.
However, the effectiveness of these measures remains uncertain.
Millions of students are losers
In a country already marked by marked differences in the quality of education between public and private schools, as well as low literacy rates, the pandemic has affected the learning of around 40 million students across Pakistan. The World Bank has claimed that “even the most optimistic scenario suggests an overall learning loss for every child enrolled.”
Students learned much less at home, compared to learning in the classroom before the pandemic, according to a UNICEF study. Their learning was hampered by a lack of access to technology, problems with network connectivity and a low level of motivation.
“Keeping kids interested and motivated in online classes is the biggest challenge because kids don’t care about them and their screen time is increased,” mother-of-three Alia Malik told DW . Organizing separate places and gadgets for all the kids in the house was an added challenge.
Speaking to DW about the contrast between online learning and face-to-face learning, Shahram Ahmad, a student at a private university, said: “It’s the same difference as between a call and a meeting. in person. Difficult concepts are much easier to understand. when an instructor can use all the tools at his disposal. ”
Muhammad Qadeer, a high school teacher, told DW that as students go through a critical stage in their mental and biological development, the lack of regular coaching and extracurricular activities will have a huge impact on their learning. “This generation will always be remembered as the COVID generation,” he said.
“A question of privilege”
As reported by UNICEF, distance learning was not possible for 23% of young children due to a lack of access to digital devices. The pandemic has hit poor and disadvantaged families the hardest, as they cannot afford even a single device.
Geographic barriers have also had an impact. About 26% of urban youth did not have access to technology, while in the countryside, this figure rose to 36%.
Distance learning is also a challenge for children with disabilities and girls.
“I did very well in my face-to-face classes, but during the lockdown I had household chores that couldn’t be ignored. It badly affected my performance in college and my GPA hit rock bottom,” he said. said Wyena Qureshi, a private university student.
Students also had to drop out due to financial losses during the pandemic. The Pakistani economy has been hit hard by the pandemic.
In 2020, the World Bank predicted that 930,000 children would drop out of primary and secondary education. “Pakistan is globally the country where we expect the most [number of] dropouts due to the COVID crisis, ”the bank said.
Two sides of the same coin?
“It was a difficult experience for all of us, but we also learned to function and stay connected remotely,” Yasmeen Hameed, an educator, told DW.
“New learning techniques were adapted and the children gradually became familiar with them,” she said.
Pakistan’s teleschool program for Punjab students initially had a high viewership due to stakeholder support and a step-by-step rollout. However, market research firm IPSOS found that usage declined after six months.
Zulfiqar Samin, assistant secretary for policy at the federal education ministry, told DW that the ministry has tried to overcome education challenges through digital programs.
“We tried to reach all the radio and TV channels we could and kept the Urdu language of communication at the federal level to overcome language barriers. Parents also cooperated very well with us,” he said. -he declares.
He also pointed out that developed countries like China, the United States and Germany have also been affected in the same way. He added that although the Pakistani government is pushing its vaccination campaign until the majority of people get vaccinated, they remain at risk.