The normal that we wish to return to no longer exists. COVID-19 is here to stay. Pakistan had slowly, but continually, made improvements in its educational structure. COVID-19, however, disrupted the momentum. There was a 14% decrease in the out of school children since 2012-2017 and our educational budget, unlike the general idea, has increased with a growth rate of 17.5% since 2010. However, the pandemic has flipped the paradigm as all educational institutions have been put in lockdown, consequently exposing the lack of internet infrastructure in the country.
Pakistan’s education system has long been struggling with educational inequality, political interference, non-uniform curriculum, bureaucratic manipulation, insufficient funds, and the imperfect use of the allocated funds. Inevitably, this has given birth to further animosity and disparity in the environment.
The division on social and political grounds, instability, economic deterioration, sectarian violence, and lack of cohesion in the system are all being fueled by the disintegrated educational framework which is in turn further fueling its decomposition. It is a vicious cycle.
The lack of uniformity of the outdated curriculum present in the public and private sectors and deeni madaris is giving rise to three different ideologies that contradict one another on a fundamental basis.
Pakistan has an estimated 22.8 million children (aged 5-16) out of school, making it the world’s second-highest number of children not attending school. Of the other 56% of this age group that does attend school, almost half of the children have to endure numerous obstacles and hurdles to obtain their basic rights as stated in the constitution by Article 25-A and 37-A B and C.
According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, of the total educational institutions (149,852), only 51.5% of the buildings in all Pakistan are deemed satisfactory: Whereas, 21% don’t even have a boundary wall. Areas like Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sindh suffer the most, primarily due to socio-cultural restraints and political interference prevailing in the areas.
In Balochistan, a colossal 51.64% of school buildings require repair; 78.78% don’t have electricity available; 70% don’t have latrine facility and 43.8% of the schools are deprived of a clean drinking water facility. Due to the aforementioned factors and negligence on behalf of provincial and federal governments, 1.9 million children out of 2.7 million are out of school and the retention rate from grade 1 to grade 5 is 41% in the largest province of the country.
A report by Alif Ailaan states that each year 165,869 girls are enrolled in the primary section. Sadly, the number drops to 44,076 in the middle section and further down to only 20,015 in the higher section.
In Sindh, 36.5% of buildings don’t have latrine facilities; 42.77% don’t have drinking water available; with more than 6.4 million children out of school.
Post Covid-19, all educational institutions were closed down in Pakistan in mid-March, 2020 in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. AS per HEC’s orders, schools and universities are quickly developing platforms to teach the courses online. However, the drastic increase in online learning is not only exposing the already existing flaws in the structure, but also creating new challenges.
The effects of the digital divide have never been felt more severely than now
The Pakistan School Association has stated that schools will reopen on 15th August if the coronavirus figures. Teleschool, a dedicated TV channel launched by the government for online learning, has limited content. Quickly launching new learning applications and ensuring a steady flow of online content is proving to be a major challenge. With this channel being the only source of education for millions of children across the nation, it still isn’t widely available for everyone.
The effects of the digital divide have never been felt more severely than now. Pakistan has always ranked low on international scorecards for providing Internet access. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Inclusive Internet Index for 2020, Pakistan is ranked 76th out of 100 economies. Commissioned each year by Facebook, the ranking considers four major dimensions: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness.
Maryam, a 6-year-old girl in Barakahu, says,” I hope the school starts soon. I miss the excitement of seeing my friends and learning new things in school”. With no television at home and no internet facility, Maryam and all the other girls in such familiar situations are deprived of their right to education.
Although there are 164.9 million mobile connections in Pakistan, as of January 2020, there were only 76.38 million internet users from the 220 million population. Moreover, according to the PTA, there are only one million school-going children, out of an estimated 28.69 million school-going children, who have regular access to digital devices and the internet.
Access, relevance, and security are all major challenges facing the Internet in Pakistan. According to a report published by Bytes for All, Pakistan, 37% of those aged 15 to 65 know about the Internet, and 17% of the population uses the Internet, with only 14% on social media. Moreover, only 21% of males and 12% of females in Pakistan are online with an equal disparity among those that use mobile phones. This poses major challenges towards internet adoption in general.
One of the biggest problems in provinces like Balochistan, GB, and KPK’s is a poor internet connection which resulted in protests by hundreds of students against the government’s decision for universities to hold online classes. Students, being held hostage by no or poor internet connections and load-shedding, have to travel vast distances to be able to take their classes, submit their assignments, or appear in exams. From not guiding students to arresting them for the demand of their basic rights, the government’s response has been nothing but abysmal.
Although organizations like Orenda Project, with their application like Taleemabad, and Teach for Pakistan are making considerable effort against the educational disparity, with aims to eradicate educational inequity and promote excellence in education, we still have a long way to go. Amin ul Haque, Pakistan’s minister for information technology, said that the government is trying its best to provide internet facilities to people. It has set up a universal service fund (USF), a government initiative that aims to extend fiber optic connectivity to the unserved. However, billions upon billions are required to effectively eradicate this divide.
The write is a digital marketer, freelance writer and education activist