Why our education system could not stand the COVID-19 shock

By Shagufta Shazadi

It is high time that the PTI government takes education as a serious matter as the country’s economy, and sets its directions right on the future of education. If PM Imran Khan thinks that we can learn from China does he mean only learning how to handle their economy and politics or he can also learn how to revive the education system?

It seems that the occurring of natural disasters is on the rise so are humans’ responses to them but that is not true for everyone. Like other countries of the world, Covid-19 hit Pakistan with a surprise, no one was ready to make a timely and effective response to it. As a result, almost, all the systems collapsed, and shutting down the country was the solitary option. We are thankful that the pandemics did not test our health system intensively therefore somehow, we could manage it. After people’s livelihoods, formal education was the worst hit. Schools were closed nationwide for about six months and about nine months in the winter zones. This response does not need any justification because the situation was novel and sudden. What needs to be answered is what did our educational planners including the education ministry do in that period? Why they did not check with other education systems around the world to see what they were doing? Why they concentrate only on covering syllabus and examinations? Why there is no creativity in those highly and regularly paid experts sitting in luxurious offices? Why did they assume the pandemic will walk away just like the way it had come? So, when the second wave hit the country with a much stronger force than the first one the schools were again closed the same way as it was done in the first spell. The only quick fix they had was to ask the teachers to attend school, assign homework, and start online sessions, which the private sector was already doing. After the decision all the stakeholders are confused; the teachers were using homework to practice what is already learned, keep the children busy at home, and sometimes punishing them. and to students.

Expecting the education system to develop a quality response mechanism for emergencies sometimes appears asking too much from a system that does not respond effectively in a normal circumstance. A routine classroom teaching and learning are associated with; teachers talking, students listening, textbooks guiding booth the teachers and the students, the blackboard is used to draw, subject learning is divided into classroom periods. The common perception is that anything besides the factors is considered noneducational and should not be allowed in the schools. There are no computers in most of the schools therefore both the teachers and the students have no exposure to any sort of learning technology. In the school where there are computers are operated by computer teachers while other teachers do not even know how to turn it on or off. Consequently, the whole education system collapses when almost all these basic pillars of traditional classroom teaching wipe out abruptly. As a result, the students are left on their own and they do not know how to educate themselves. The students are out of practice, the parents are frustrated and the nation falls behind.

The world is moving towards integrating technology in education, smartboards, touch panels, holography, educational apps & software, electricity, and the internet are considered essential ingredients of a modern classroom. They have accepted the fact that learning is not space and time-bound and can happen anywhere and anytime. Students are encouraged to educate themselves on whatever they like, anywhere they live, and anytime they want to. On the other hand, we are still struggling with boundary walls, washrooms, furnishers, and textbooks. They are empowering their students to be independent learners and we are trying our very best to make them dependent on the textbooks and the teachers. Our system does not encourage creative and critical thinking and those of us who are sitting on higher positions in education is the product of the same system. Since they are not creative and critical they are reproducing the new generation in the same way. They cannot bring novel solutions to novels situations. As a nation we need to ask ourselves should we trust such a system to respond to an emergency of a higher magnitude in the future when it underperforms in normal conditions?

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics published a survey result in June 2020, according to the statistic, only17 % of individuals ten years and older used the internet in the last three months. The shocking result is that only 8% of individuals ten years and older are using computers, laptops, and tablets. Even 26 % of people think that these technologies are not useful and are in clash with their culture. Other surveys show that on average, 45% of school-going students have access to TV, 38% of children do not have textbooks and other learning material at home to continue education when schools are closed. When the government announced that students should be taught online they meant 17 % of children and how? Are the teachers trained in conducting online sessions? What did they do for the rest, ask them to come to school to collect their homework from teachers who are not trained to use the home assignment as a teaching tool? Do they know how the home assignment will be assessed? How feedback will be given? Will the students be promoted to senior classes the same way we did in 2020? What will happen to cover the syllabus that is so dear to the education ministry? We know only one single curriculum is not going to fix all the problems of education so we need to work around other basic problems. We need to work on innovative ideas when we know we are not able to meet the requirements of the traditional schooling systems which we blindly followed for years and could not bring any change in instructions, resources, and policies.

Some important changes need to be made, if we want to prepare our children for an unseen future, like; a) reduce students’ dependency on teachers, schools, and books b) develop internet and electricity infrastructure in the country c) train teachers in educational technology such as technological pedagogical content knowledge, d) develop its educational emergency policy as quickly as possible e) ensure the education ministry makes an informed decision which is based on facts, f) bring creative people in education ministry who can think out of the box g) invest on nontraditional but effective ways of bringing children out of illiteracy h)introduce competency-based education which means emphasizing more on what the children can do rather than how much he/she can memorize and reproduce in the examination.

We know that poverty is the biggest issue of Pakistan but so is education. The government can achieve a lot of success in reviewing the economy but if it has not produced quality men and women it will achieve nothing.

The writer is educationalist and can be reached at shagu.skm@gmail.com.

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