Abdul Wali Khan Yaftali
The Aga Khan University-Institute for Educational Development
Professional Development Center, Chitral
The concept of schooling, it’s socio-economic, and psycho-emotional impacts specifically on learners and generally on society, have remained in the spotlights for academia, policymakers, civil society organizations, economists and developmental experts across the world. The outbreak of the current pandemic – COVID-19 has added another dimension to the discourse; the very notion of the current model of schooling itself! Lock-downs in the wake of the pandemic, closure of schools and restrictions on physical mobility has left hundreds of millions of children across the world with no or very limited choices to learn. This situation, on the one hand, exposed the contemporary model of schooling, and, on the other hand, has triggered our thinking regarding relevant schooling models meeting Twenty First Century needs.
The contemporary factory or Darbar model of schooling evolved as a result of the industrial revolution in Europe, serving the primary purpose to creating a workforce for the factories. In the nutshell, age-based classrooms, efficiency, discipline, time management, physical attendance of learners and teachers are some of the fundamental requirements of the model. The model has played pivotal role in supplying skilled workforce for the industrial age and is still a dominant way of schooling both in the developed and developing world. However, this order of schooling has become highly questionable with the closure of schools, restrictions on physical attendance and mobility, as an aftermath of the current pandemic. As physical attendance of learners and teachers in a specified space and time are the basic building blocks of this model.
The current situation was a litmus test for the existing schooling model, regretfully this beguiling model failed to stand the tide. As a result, both public and private sector organizations responsible for schooling of millions of learners across Pakistan were forced to reinvent their modus operandi in a multitude of ways. Distance learning techniques like; live and recorded lessons, posted assignments, distribution of animated and printed contents and use of media and different electronic platforms were some of the immediate ways experimented during the pandemic to keep leaners of different grades and age groups learning.
In the wake of the pandemic, ‘blended learning’ emerged as an alternative to normal schooling across the world. Students, teachers, parents and educational managers have started using social media platforms like; Facebook, Whatsapps, Microsoft team, Zoom etc. as an alternative route to normal classroom-teaching. The stakeholders across Pakistan called transition to blended learning options unplanned and challenging. Reaching out to learners in every nook and corner of the country, poor or no IT infrastructure, meager digital literacy skills of both teachers and learners, limited access to digital gadgets, preparation of digital contents and effective monitoring of learning are some of the challenges faced by the stakeholders in the outset. However, the most important thing is that, the pandemic led Pakistani society to think out of the box and experiment blended learning options, experiment the process, face its challenges and explore whole new world of opportunities to innovate. This suggests that the education sector in Pakistan requires comprehensive planning and serious thought process in order to tap the possibilities of blended learning and digital schooling. To follow the proverbial ‘a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step’, necessitates that educationists, IT experts and people from business community come together in a single platform to reconstruct a viable educational model of blended learning to begin with. Moreover, without solving issues of access, capacity, intake and digital divide, we may not only further widen learning gaps between different social classes but will also miss the golden opportunity to challenge the contemporary schooling order. Similarly, other options of distance learning like; education through TV, radio and cable networks, use of existent learning spaces like libraries and provision of printed and downloaded contents to students are also being experimented by both the public and private sectors across Pakistan. Communities have appreciated the alternative ways of keeping their children engaged at home during the pandemic. However, monitoring learning, ensuring uniform learning routine at home, engagement of both learners and parents, development and distribution of contents are some of the challenges associated with the mentioned ways. Developing comprehensive structure for home schooling and monitoring of learning and creation of workable systems for development and distribution of animated and printed contents may amplify the impact of these new modes of learning during the current crisis.
Evidently, the pandemic has disturbed education of millions of children and exposed the contemporary order of education. Nevertheless, it has also provided us opportunities of reflection and innovation in the field of education. Living and facing the pandemic has become a harsh reality and apparently there is no escape from this in the immediate future. Hence, it is imperative to rethink our existing practices and develop alternative schooling model(s) befitting and sustainable in the long run. This would indeed be a paradigm shift and we must leverage technology, promote and strengthen homeschooling, utilize media and create independent learning spaces for students, teachers, educators, parents and all other relevant stakeholders.