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THE coronavirus pandemic unleashed unspeakable havoc on virtually all aspects of human life, including education. In Pakistan, millions of children with no access to the internet and computers have forever been pushed out of the learning net due to the compounding effect of poverty and school closure. In fact, the education losses incurred due to pandemic-induced school closures have been unprecedented.
A report prepared by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi and Unicef underscores some features of the shift to online learning and overall school enrolment; it elaborates on the students’ support systems—or their lack thereof—both at home and in school, and the effect on learning outcomes. The report found that school enrolment for six- to 16-year-olds, dropped by 2% when compared to 2019. Even before Covid, nearly 22m children in the country did not go to school. Prolonged school closures took a heavy—and irreversible—toll on education.
The report further states that the percentage of children in Class 3 who could read an Urdu story dipped to 15% in 2021 from 19% in 2019. In contrast, the percentage of children who could read English sentences plummeted from 21% in 2019 to a miserable 8% in 2021. Also, 63% of the children who shifted to online learning said that their families tried to support their education. Out of more than 45,000 responders, 32% said their schools provided learning materials while 58% divulged that no one from the school administration reached out to them for any kind of support. The fact that a majority of children felt disengaged from the learning experience and schooling is an indictment of the socioeconomic and technological inequalities that are prevalent in Pakistani society.
It’s unfortunate that despite televised and online learning aides, education emerged as the worst victim of the pandemic. Many children in Pakistan, especially those from the low socioeconomic stratum, have virtually no access to smartphones, a dependable internet connection or the finances to afford online education. These findings should serve as a wakeup call for the state to carry out targeted reforms in the education sector. It’s time the government focused its attention on investing in better online structure in emergency situations when schools are closed.