In the wake of COVID-19, when the pandemic has drastically affected all spheres of life, education is one of the crucial aspects. It’s a dilemma that amidst this catastrophic situation when everyone in the world has taken charge of the situation and successfully been able to transfer their workplaces and educational institutions to online systems, education systems in Pakistan has come to a halt. The question is: For how long? Will the educational institutions and students be ready to start new all over again? Will the students commit to giving up several months of their lives without education? Especially those who were about to graduate? Those who were looking forward to starting their careers? Those eyes which were waiting for their children to graduate so they could share the burden of their old parents? Is it all gone, just because of having no proper systems? Who is to blame? Is it the first pandemic situation we are facing? Have we forgotten how many years back this cessation can take us, after all these years of growth as a nation?
The virus has badly hit the people, as they were never ready for such a deadly attack by such a pandemic. It has brought a huge amount of uncertainty in all the countries, including Pakistan. The virus has now spread in almost every part of the world, as more than 190 countries have been affected. Countries around the globe are under lockdown, restricting people to their homes for their safety purposes. People are suffering from many problems like financial, domestic, educational, and much more. In a recent report released by the UN, more than 1.4 billion children in 136 countries have been affected by the closure of schools and universities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This break has developed a drastic impact on the learning and teaching process, and these numbers will rise in the coming days as the virus is spreading very rapidly. According to another report by Pearson, more than 300 million students worldwide are experiencing educational disruptions due to COVID-19.
In the presence of the outbreak, a panic situation has been created in Pakistan resulting in the closure of businesses, schools, and universities. In Pakistan, the government has ordered school closure from March 13th till May 31st on an emergency basis to avoid spread, as schools have a large number of gatherings. There is a fair bit of chance that there will be an indefinite increase in these holidays.
Many universities have announced a conversion to online education, however, schools are lacking such a system to connect students online, as many schools in Pakistan are strongly opposing the intervention of technological practices in schools. According to a report published in June by a private newspaper agency, Pakistan has reached 70 million internet users, which is 36% of the whole population. The main problem with online education is access to the internet. Many students in the universities are from remote and rural areas, where they are facing signal issues resulting in not having fair internet access, leading to discrimination with the students in such areas. Moreover, students in many universities are not happy with the systems of online education, because of having no access to practical lab work which cannot perform virtually due to lack of proper equipment. Many students are claiming back the huge fee they have submitted to universities, as they are not being able to benefit from the kind of education they asked for, considering it as a lack of proper resources for uncertain situations.
School education is going nowhere as there are no such emergency plans with both public and private sectors school, in case of this national emergency, where the government is utilizing these schools building for a period of quarantine for COVID-19 infected patients.
The education sector need real attention from the government as there is a huge amount of uncertainty in students and parents. The business model of private schools has been seen to be a disappointment, where there is no room for tackling emergency situations. They are seeking help from government sectors to help them pay building rents and employees’ salaries. The major and harsh reality of the private schools is that they do not have a well-established connection with the government, as there have been many controversies between the two, on fee collection system of private schools, but no doubt as they are major contributors to the education sectors.
Due to this pandemic situation, all around the world educational institutions are now converting their system to online learning systems, but in Pakistan at the school level, schools have never welcomed technology due to many reasons like their monetary benefits. In the current situation, education needs to be evolved to adapt to modern techniques, based on technological interventions with online learning. We need to learn from other countries and their effective emergency plans. According to Dr. Percy Fernandez, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Dubai, “A sharp rise in social distancing and learning from homes could translate into a clarion call for free internet access to be considered a basic human right”.
Furthermore, the education sector is facing the biggest threat and uncertainty. Teachers are worried about their jobs, a large number of teachers are unemployed due to this pandemic situation. The conversion of online classes will increase the teacher’s burden as they are will be in need of training on online technologies. In Pakistan, very few numbers of schools are having Learning Management Systems (LMS), although it provides a great deal of ease to educators and teachers to provide opportunities for sharing lectures, assignments, quizzes, and track the record of learners. LMS is widely being used in higher education, and most universities are using it with a great deal of success. Students have found it very helpful as they get contents with ease sitting to their computer, being able to download their course-related materials at any time.
One of the big reasons for school failure is the teacher-centered approach, in which teachers are the main sources of learning, who drive all the learning with lectures, while students are at the receiver’s end. This approach is not creating challenging and innovative minds, but more of a parasitic system, where students are bound to school and teachers. Students are also not computer literate, and computer subjects are mostly neglected. Computers are not being taught as major subjects but as an elective course. It is questionable that if students do not know how to use a computer, how can the school expect them to use online platforms for learning in such situations? Our schools are not challenging students but spoon-feeding them by giving notes and other reading materials for rote-learning. They are never developing skills like listening, speaking, reading, writing, problem-solving, discussions, etc. This seems to look like a big failure to develop students on the current framework, which later on changes as they reach higher education systems, and are unable to survive in those conditions of the practical environment. There is a lot to consider, and it is time we wake up and take some action.