When I saw the numbers in the latest GEM Report, which came out last month, my initial reaction was not surprise or shock, but disappointment. The global COVID-19 pandemic jolted conventional education systems and rendered them obsolete overnight.
I think it’s fair to say that we did the best we could given the circumstances, given that Pakistan is a developing country facing a number of urgent challenges. “In Pakistan, a survey of 16 districts found similar learning losses in foundational skills in grades 1 and 3 but not in grade 5,” the report states. We knew that because younger students needed more time to adjust to online courses and teleschool programmes, elementary school education would be hit the hardest. Based on the data we gathered and analysed, we concluded that parents of younger children were less concerned about their education for the most part, instead directing their attention to older siblings who were enrolled in higher-level courses.
In a word, it was a testing and trying period. To ensure that no child falls behind during the ongoing shutdown or any future ones, we were also trying to coordinate efforts for our new Single National curriculum initiative, which aims to eliminate the differences between the three types of education currently available in Pakistan (private, public, and madrassah).
In spite of this, Pakistan’s response to the COVID pandemic and our handling of it have been widely praised. I think this is due in large part to the fact that we did not wait around to make the necessary adjustments to the way we were handling the situation. We organised the closure or relocation of schools to online learning environments. If you look at the big picture, I think we did a good job of protecting Pakistani citizens’ lives under difficult circumstances.
We continue to take part in a variety of efforts aimed at reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, we’re taking measures to prevent the occurrence of any dropouts. Since these children are once again in the area, we are organising enrollment drives and promoting vaccination drives to get them back into school.
The true scope of the issue is being measured by student evaluations. It’s for this reason that we didn’t postpone the exams like we did last year. In order to determine how much knowledge has been lost and how to quickly restore it, we reduced the curriculum while simultaneously encouraging exams across the country. We’re also aiding educators by giving them the resources they need to get back on track, such as counselling and training.
We are also working to increase families’ awareness of when programming is available and to increase the number of households with access to remote learning. As a result of this, we are actively working to broaden availability of internet and digital communication tools like laptops. Similarly, based on comments made about our teleschool programme, we plan to work on refining the content, rearranging the modules, and making the lessons more interactive in order to enhance the quality of remote learning.
To that end, we’re working to improve curricula and provide resources for educators so that students can make up for lost ground quickly. To my mind, this is the perfect opportunity for a more robust reconstruction effort. The pandemic is a major setback against previously achieved gains, as both access and education have improved in recent years. We must all work together to increase funding for schools, safeguard education as a public good, and defend educational spending. Everyone was affected by COVID-19, but we must not leave our youngest and most defenceless citizens to endure this crisis alone.