By Assadullah Khan
The Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED)
Professional Development Centre (PDC), Chitral
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted the routine activities from personal to organizational, national and international level. The working style, ethos and dynamics have also changed. The activities and interactions (physical collaboration and cooperation) once considered to be the strength of any setup have now reduced to minimal scale, and, at time forbidden and prohibited by law. As we know that the human resources are considered the lifeline of any given organization, however, the prevailing situation has compelled us to live and work in isolation. Workforce has been forced to work from home and schools have been temporarily closed. Nevertheless, the decision of closing schools and other institutions is in the best interest of nation, as safety of human lives should be the foremost concern, while all other activities follow. In the absence of pharmaceutical cure i.e. vaccine, maintaining a safe distance in the social interactions seems the only option out there. However, amidst isolation several interventions have been initiated by the government for students and teachers to learn and develop in the face of changing time.
One of the best ways to learn while maintaining a safe physical distance is through media such as internet, radio, cable and satellite TV. All the media sources mentioned above are available in town areas. However, in most areas cable TV facility is not available and internet connectivity is very poor. Therefore, the only option available with majority of the household is satellite TV. The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training has already started a laudable tele-school initiative for grade 1-12 on Pakistan Television Network (PTV). The programme has been appreciated by all stakeholders as PTV has an extensive viewership base across the country both in the rural and urban tapestries. According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) was informed that around eight million students were benefitting from the tele-school initiative (Dawn, June 19th, 2020).
The intervention is thoroughly planned by the experts in collaboration with other professional Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The content selection is meticulous and appropriate for the age and grade levels. The mode of delivery is according to the need and demand of the specific grade level. In addition, the content has been selected according to the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) of the National Curriculum of Government of Pakistan. It is particularly a blessing for the people of remote areas, as TV sets are available in almost all households.
Moreover, most of the Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) have also taken such initiatives through cable TV are equally appreciable. Furthermore, individual schools are also in contact with students and parents regarding home assignments and parental involvement in the process. This shows that from government to individual school level students’ learning and engagement with home task have been taken seriously and the work is in progress. However, it has been noticed that these media-based interventions are not being taken seriously by parents, students and teachers. Children are not being monitored and supervised to attend the tele-school sessions and other media-based task. A likely reason for this could be most of the parents are academically and technically not in a position to play any significant role in this regard. In addition, working parents remain engaged throughout the day with no or minimal time left to be engaged and monitor children work. Hence, the desired benefit from the different media-based interventions is not being accrued. One of the key stakeholders who can play role in this regard are teachers. Teachers can play a role within their jurisdiction motivating parents and students by strategizing ways to take maximum advantage of different media based interventions. Though internet facility is not available or connectivity is poor in most of the areas, however, TV sets are available and could be used effectively for learning purposes. Due to school closure teachers are at home, and, hence, in a better position to manage tele-school intervention following SOPs of social distancing and other safety measures.
It seems awkward to propose management of tele-school sessions and other media based initiatives by teachers as they are not directly responsible to manage the interventions. Hence, it could be argued that teachers are professionally and legally not bound to lead or manage the sessions. However, as a change agent and nation builders they are morally bound to lead and manage the sessions. Management or leading here necessarily means to motivate the students and parents to attend the sessions regularly. In addition, it could also come handy to advertise and market the program in the given area. Moreover, teacher can use the forum of Parent Teacher Council (PTC) as an appropriate technology to propagate the idea and motivating the parents and students’ to take maximum advantage of the need based initiation of the government. At individual level even parents at home level could supervise and monitor their children to attend the sessions and to work on the other assigned tasks. A team comprising of teachers and parents could be made responsible to visit homes to monitor the work progress. A variety of contextual strategies could be used by teachers and PTC for meaningful impact of tele-school sessions and other tech or media based interventions. In a nut shell, it is being advocated that the situation demands active involvement of all stakeholders to make tele-school intervention productive and successful for the students.
The content and pedagogy in the tele-school sessions have been selected under the guidance and supervision of the professional experts. Hence, the sessions should also be attended by teachers for content enhancement and professional development. During the COVID-19 pandemic teachers are living in isolation having no or minimal contact with other professionals and colleagues to share ideas and to learn from each other. Therefore, the platform of tele-school is an opportunity for the teachers and teacher educators to learn and develop professionally. It also supports the idea of integration of technology to teach different subjects, an emerging and highly effective way of teaching and learning. The use of technology in the classroom is highly valued by the educators and education institutions because of its importance and growing impact. It is a shift from traditional classroom setting to tech based and interactive ways of learning. Hence, we can say that tele-school sessions should be taken as an opportunity and a blessing in disguise to learn the skills of using media in the classroom. Moreover, it is an emerging pedagogical approach which could capture children’s attention and could evolve as a powerful tool to motivate children resulting productive and meaningful learning.
Furthermore, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic universities and other higher educational institutions are also closed. University students are currently home-bound and they can play a pivotal role along with teachers to motivate the parents and students to take maximum benefits from media-based interventions. They can arrange awareness sessions for parents following the SOPs. For university students it could be an opportunity to develop social skills such as; empathy, social work, communication and mobilization skills, respect, listening others, acceptance, flexibility, taking responsibility and so on.
In summary, I believe that as a responsible citizen we have to play our due role to make the national initiatives successful at local level. Each of us can play our role according to our capacities, expertise and within a certain circle of influence. However, the people directly or indirectly associated with the profession of education and related services are expected to take it more responsibly and to be a role model for others.