Covid-19 and Emerging Educational Trends in Pakistan

Online Learning Isometric Concept

Covid-19 and Emerging Educational Trends in Pakistan

The role of governments is the key to mitigating the disruptive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on education in terms of both delivery and outcomes. Effective response guidelines for governments stress the need to plan for long-term disruptions and strategic adaptation, and to coordinate and communicate with, as well as support, the education workforce. Much like the health response to the pandemic, an effective education response requires planning for phases. Right from the onset of the emergency, most countries have mounted a rapid response by leveraging technology to start home-schooling mechanisms that can help cope with lost instructional time. The second phase requires policy planning for managing continuity of instruction when schools reopen, including ensuring that children return to schools, instruction takes account of potential learning losses during time away from schools, and teachers and school leaders are fully supported as they work to realize these goals.

As a result of global school closures, it has become immediately clear that the children at risk of dropping out and those who are likely to experience the most significant learning losses are the ones from marginalized backgrounds. Poverty, gender and location are intersecting to entrench exclusion for already marginalized children. Existing data sources help establish the scale and scope of the challenge. The gendered experience of exclusion from access to technology and the increased burden of care on girls is a key dimension of inequality during this disruption. A recent survey about access to digital learning demonstrates that girls are much less likely to have regular access to any form of technology. Inequalities in access worsen for girls in rural areas and those in the poorest households. The increased burden of care in the households during the pandemic is much more likely to have hit girls the hardest, making it much more likely that they are effectively excluded from accessing Covid-response measures around education. Globally, women and girls carry out three times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work than men and boys, and this load is likely to have increased during periods of school closures and lockdowns. As Covid-associated health and economic shocks threaten to push millions into extreme poverty, girls are more at risk of dropping out of schools.

The use of digital content in education worldwide was relatively uncommon before the crisis started. Only 20% of countries had digital learning resources in teaching, but only in some schools. A mere 10 percent of countries had more robust digital learning capabilities, offering some of the educational materials available outside of school. According to the World Bank, no country has a universal digital curriculum for teaching and learning. These numbers paint a picture of the efforts that governments and schools had to take rapidly to move to distance learning to ensure continuity of learning. To appropriately switch to online learning, three requirements need to be fulfilled: access to the internet, the right technology, and the skills to use that technology. The World Economic Forum argues that possible changes consist of three aspects:Snail crawling on download bar, conceptual image showing slow internet downloading

  1. The crisis could accelerate innovation within education. For those who do have access to the internet and the necessary technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective. With this insight and the experience gained during the crisis, new digital learning possibilities could be implemented by the educational institution to stimulate the productivity of the lessons. Potential innovations include educational applications, platforms, and resources. All aiming to help parents, teachers, schools and school administrators to facilitate student learning, social care and interactions during periods of school closure. For examples of already available online resources, see the list created by UNESCO with all national learning platforms and tools.
  2. Public-private educational partnerships could grow in importance. The past decade showed increased interest from private companies in education. The pandemic could pave the way for large-scale, cross-industry cooperation around a common educational goal.
  3. Given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen inequality. The quality of education depends on access to the internet, the right technology and the required skills to use it. As already mentioned, this differs heavily per country. The digital divide could worsen if the effectiveness of education is directly linked to access to the latest technologies.

It is too early to judge whether a new hybrid educational system will emerge with both face-to-face and online classes, or the short-term preparation for online learning will result in poor performance and suggest going back to traditional methods. As the situation further progresses and more data on the topic is gathered, extensive analysis of the larger-scale impact of the pandemic on education can be conducted by experts in the field.

Insofar as the Higher Education system is concerned, there is no doubt that it is getting worse in many countries because of digital education. The Covid-19 pandemic has endangered us all, and online education is being touted as the solution for the safety of the faculty and the students. But, universities in countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are poorly prepared for online learning or distance learning because their campuses are closed and their students have returned to their homes. Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) asked universities to engage faculty and quickly develop online courses and broadcast those to the students, but there are some issues regarding the online system in Pakistan. A sudden change to online learning creates many challenges to the system as the majority of students do not have smartphones or personal computer for online classes.

Moreover, access to internet in Pakistan is another formidable issue that has arisen from the pandemic. According to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), approximately one million students have consistent access to the internet. In a country where only 36% of the population has access to either fixed or mobile broadband, academics have been completely halted for those without internet access. Even if there is internet access, it remains unaffordable to many. People are asserting that online education is not an option given the cost and absence of high-speed internet. Students in rural regions in provinces such as Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Interior Sindh, and Gilgit-Baltistan have been complaining about internet issues.iStock-940972538

Although many universities and colleges are replacing traditional exams with online assessment tools, assessments are likely to have larger measurement errors than usual. Teachers and students are feeling difficulty to use the gadgets and modern techniques of online teaching and learning process. Hence, the careers of this year’s university graduates may be severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, in developing countries like Pakistan, to compensate for the loss of students, digital learning can be a fruitful trend in future education and it can also benefit educational reforms. However, to make it truly useful, the cost of accessing online education needs to be reduced. The HEC needs to be in constant touch with the educational institutions to get the feedback and the relevant authorities should provide a platform where students can lodge complaints regarding online education so that they can be better reformed.

The writer is a PhD Scholar (English Literature).

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