By Nasra Parveen
The COVID – 19 and its resultant lockdown has put the whole world in chaos. One segment of the society that has suffered the most and whose losses would surface in the comings months/years only is that of young students. For more than three months formal teaching learning has stopped with the closedown of educational institutes. While some schools have resumed the process through online/distance teaching and learning, many having not enough resources are in the wait and see phase.
The consequences of this wait till next announcement policy for students in Pakistan is immense. With an already fragile education system where children who are fortunate enough to go to school are getting quality compromised education, Pakistan is moving towards further jeopardy with the student’s prime learning time being wasted.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, the pandemic has effected some areas more than the rest and the increasing cases are alarming. Students’ learning is at halt all private and public schools are closed will next announcement for re-opening. The government education department has attempted to provide learning opportunity to school students by starting an educational channel “teleschool” where different subjects are taught to different grade levels. The effectiveness and utilization of this resource is questionable given the absence of proper learning mechanism and resources available at different households. Parents’ /family members’ lack of competence and/or awareness about their role in their children’s learning in such unusual scenario and/or the lack of availability of their time for their children’s education are other constrains that hinder young children’s learn from the available learning resource. The private providers of education to school children also putting efforts to ensure learning continues. Organizations such as Aga Khan Education Services has opted for synchronous/asynchronous online teaching. In peripheral regions such as Gojal, both private and public school teachers are providing educational support by visiting children’s homes. The teachers give them learning material, task to perform and help where support is needed. The efforts from all the educational providers are highly commendable. Yet students face many issues in learning in the absence of a scaffolding for learning. Young children find it difficult to do the task because of the constraints mentioned above. They end up in copying the task from a friend and the purpose of doing the task remains unmet. .
Re-opening of schools, although, appears out of question, since health and safety of people is more important than their learning in the current scenario. However, students’ learning can still be resumed with differentiated strategies for different regions. The central regions having better internet connectivity can reopen schools through online/distance mode. Given the better electricity provision in these regions, the “teleschool” education program can also be utilized more effectively by educational institutions in such regions.
For the peripheral regions which have less resources and facilities such as internet, electricity and learning devices such as TV, computers and smartphones, online/distance learning does not seem a viable solution. Luckily, these regions have few/no cases of COVID – 19 and students learning can restart with well thought suitable but strict precautionary measures by school and civil administration. The pleasant weather conditions and availability of vast grounds/spaces in the school vicinity also favor learning in these regions where students can sit outside the classrooms with the required standard physical distance maintained in cases where class size is a constrain in physical distancing. In areas where these strategies are not workable, schools can coordinate and engage educated people in students’ learning different neighborhoods. These days educated boys and girls from colleges, universities and offices are mostly at home, wondering how to spend their time. Their engagement with younger children’s learning would provide two way benefit; while they will remain busy, the younger ones get support in learning. This strategy can also be implemented in central regions for students who do not have access to internet.
Let’s join hands in converting this risk into an opportunity and support our young generation in their learning. However, taking precautionary measures is the key. With school administrations/civil authorities ensuring students wearing masks and regularly washing/sanitizing their hands, learning can restart. After all, why devoid students the opportunity to learn in regions when there are no COVID – 19 cases and there is less movement of people between these regions? Why not fight against the virus with human agency?