COVID-19 and Role Reversals: Contextual challenges for school education in Gilgit-Baltistan

By sharifullah Baig
Senior Instructor, Aga Khan University,
Professional Development Center North (PDCN), Gilgit

The COVID-19 pandemic has immensely transformed the economic, social, educational and political structures in the world. This forced remodeling at the global plane has posed serious challenges and unbearable loses for the developing countries like Pakistan, and education is receiving more than its due share of mislays as one of the least prioritized sectors. A high level of uncertainty prevails in education as institutions are closed, work patterns are changing and roles are reshaping to cope with the new realities. Within the big picture of the country, school education in Gilgit-Baltistan is struggling to face the exceptional challenges of establishing academic contact with students, minimizing the learning loses and preparing the parents for their new role while schools are closed. The Government Education Department and various private and community based systems and schools are testing their own models to remain relevant and contribute to child learning in this changing circumstances. Some of the systems and schools are trying to go online and others have launched a door-to-door campaign for delivering educational resources, materials and means to the students. In a nut shell, efforts are individualized and there is no collective response to the situation which is understandable that we are experiencing an unpresented scenario.

However, the situation demands for something more than what we are doing at the moment. A broad-based consortium of all stakeholders is needed to look at the magnitude, complexity and intricacy of finding a comprehensive alternate mechanism which not only fulfils the yearly academic requirement but also caters for the holistic development of a child.  Indeed, this is a complex endeavor to design and implement a comprehensive alternate model of child learning at home but it is more challenging because we need to do it as quickly as possible to minimize the learning loses that we are facing in these days. The developed world is going online and the school education is quickly shifting to the electronic mode taking the benefit of their strong communicational infrastructures and facilities. The developing world is trying to follow their foot-steps and are facing enormous difficulties due to their poor infrastructures and facilities. We need to learn from the world experiences and try to come up with a contextualized model of child learning at home keeping in view our geographic and infrastructural realities.

We cannot simply announce to shift school education to the online mode and believe that it will entirely fulfil the learning needs of the children and similarly, we cannot ask teachers to reach each child to teach them at their homes. We have our own contextual realities and problems that we need to address while developing an indigenous model of child learning at home.

  • The parental involvement has remained a challenging aspect in public sector schools even in normal days before COVID-19 pandemic. The readiness of the parents for the new role which presumes more responsibilities on them is a big question mark.   No matter how meticulously the online and drop-at-home resources are intentionally designed to require minimal parental involvement, still motivating learners, establishing a learning environment, troubleshooting, and providing feedback are necessary to sustain learning at home which are big asks from parents in remote contexts. Capacity to provide material resources, developing learning space and maintaining student concentration level at home are other challenges. Currently, parents and caregivers are confronted with difficult challenges of their lives, work, and caregiving roles. The economic impact of the crisis increases the likelihood of parenting stress, abuse, and violence against children.
  • Teacher commitment to the profession and attachment is a hope in the current scenario where some are trying to reach students through online mode and some have launched a door-to-door campaign in desperation. Currently, they are trying their level best to bring one small component of the school closer to the student. However, we need to understand that these teachers are trained and have the experiences for the normal on-site school education. In the newly emerging situation they are struggling to accommodate themselves in their new role of child learning because new scenarios always demand new capacities.
  • Internet connectivity plays a decisive role for developing and implementing a substitute model of child learning. The availability and access to digital devices, internet connectivity, affordability and the prohibiting factor for digital device ownership are the flagship challenges in the remote context of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Keeping in view our contextual realities, we need to design a combination of online and on-site model of school education for Gilgit-Baltistan. This proposed model will base on four pillars. The first pillar will be the investment in designing a combination of online and on-site learning resources that is effective for many learners. This kind of learning resource and learning environment must provide a high quality and personalized learning experiences for students. It should not only focus on simply translating the content of a face-to-face environment but also accounts for student motivation, engaging in critical thinking and social and moral development.

The second pillar will be investments in teacher capacities to help them comfortable in their new role and be able to implement the proposed purposeful learning experiences for the students in the field, that are aligned to clear curriculum goals and assessment. Concurrently there is a need to invest in developing significant capabilities in schools to deliver education both online and on-site.

The third pillar is parent awareness for their new role in child education.  Schools were set up for learning, with material resources and physical spaces suited for learning with established routines and practices that were providing stability and certainty for students. Now most of these responsibilities are shifting to home in this new scenario. Therefore an investment is needed for parent awareness to make them understand about their new role at home.

Online communication and internet connectivity is emerging as a vital factor for child education in this pandemic situation therefore, it can be counted as the fourth pillar. In this regard SCO can be requested to help us in education. I believe if we come up with a viable and logical plan they will help us in education in these testing circumstances.

Now the ball is in the court of the policy makers in education. How quickly and proactively they are gathering the stakeholders on a single platform and come up with a unified response to the situation is a test of their leadership. Leadership shines when there is a testing time!

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