COVID-19 has left us all with many questions to which there seem to be no real definitive answers.
Distance learning is a term we are hearing increasingly more today than ever before. The Oxford definition for distance learning is: ‘a method in which content is broadcast or conducted by correspondence without students needing to attend school or college’ . With tackling COVID-19 being the main focus of the world, and a widespread lockdown having recently been eased, the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still yet to be seen. One of high concern is children’s education. Schools began to close on the 13th of March following government guidelines, however this abrupt closure left both teachers and students unprepared. Distance learning or learning from home has been hailed to be the solution, but is it even possible?
Pakistan as a nation has already begun to dive into the digital world but for some the internet isn’t as readily accessible as we may assume. Only around 36% of the population have easy access to the internet. This causes a major problem in distributing work to students as not all students especially those already disadvantaged by poorer living conditions can access the required assignments and resources. The governments response to this came via ‘teleschool’ providing an hours worth of content per year group. This is a start, but television is not very interactive and doesn’t provide on-demand material for studying not to mention the lack of monitoring and the singular hour of useful broadcasting per student.
The serious lack of funding for government schools in Pakistan means in these uncertain times young people are left to work things out for themselves. A large number of underprivileged children do not have accessibility to essential textbooks.
Schools in tribal and rural areas are most affected by the government enforced closure with many students not having access to internet enabled devices, televisions or any other methods of receiving what would traditionally be classroom content.
Previously students had somewhat more of a level playing field with roughly the same number of contact time with teachers. However, we may now see the students of more well-prepared and funded private schools, who are able to still deliver content, further surpass their counterparts in the ill-funded government schools. With no further action the lack of classroom teaching will have a disproportionate impact on the students who need it most. Upon an eventual return back to the normal education system, we may see a widening of the divide in academic performance from students of an upper-class background to those of a working-class, based solely on the accessibility to resources. This may further strain teachers having to work with students some of whom have not done any learning for a number of months.
This is not only a problem reserved for the schools; colleges and universities who we would hope may be better prepared with a more prominent and integral use of technology under normal circumstances. However, it is evident through the array of formal complaints, including leading institutions such as Cosmats University . The lack of a suitable, wide-spread internet infrastructure available to each student would place many at a significant disadvantage even if content was being broadcast. Monitoring engagement and examination provide a whole new multitude of problems for academic institutions, with an increased urgency in finding solutions.
We are currently still unclear of the risks posed to many when schools resume, possibly as early as the 15th of September following plans by Asad Umar, Federal Minister of Planning, Islamabad. But, with overcrowded classrooms riddling many government schools as well as the difficulty in maintaining sanitation and lack of PPE availability especially for those with a low household income, it is difficult to say for certain that the education system will be able to cope. All of these risks must be carefully traversed in order to get children back to school and avoid a second wave.
At Beacon Help we believe the education of our youth is a top priority and are keen on working to enable more young people with access to resources and to help form the support framework for those who are not privileged with private education.
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 Oxford English Dictionary (2020)
 Distance Learning (27 June 2020) – Dawn News
Article Written By: HAIDER DIN