ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students in affluent countries are relying on the Internet to pursue their studies. These days, computers and the Internet are the two most essential tools when it comes to remote learning. But what about the students in impoverished countries where computers and the Internet are not easily accessible? This article will examine the effects of the coronavirus on education in Pakistan.
Pakistan, a country in South Asia, has a population of around 233.5 million and is one of the most populous countries after Indonesia, the United States and China. However, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) per capita, ranks as one of the lowest at $5,872.
Although poverty in Pakistan drastically improved as the poverty rate fell from 64.3% in 2002 to 29.5% in 2014, Pakistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world. In addition, the poverty rate in rural areas of Pakistan is remarkably higher (54.6%) than the urban areas (9.3%). In 2015, 24% of the population lived below the national poverty line, and 69 babies among every 1,000 babies born in Pakistan died before they turned 5 years old in 2018. The country has poor internet services, especially in rural areas, and home broadband is very expensive outside of big cities.
The Effect of the Coronavirus on Education in Pakistan
Because a large portion of Pakistani children does not have access to the Internet, officials resorted to using the television for distance learning, since 40 million students have access to televisions. The country programmed an educational channel that teaches students from kindergarten to high school, resulting in it becoming the only source of education for students in the country. The television network program, “Teleschool,” teaches each grade for an hour, so that students have their own shifts for when to watch the channel.
Even before the coronavirus breakout, there were millions of Pakistani children who did not attend school – keeping all children in school is one of the serious challenges that Pakistan is facing. According to UNICEF, “An estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are out of school,” resulting in more than 40% of Pakistani children being unable to garner an education.
Now that more than 300,000 schools have closed due to the pandemic, officials are warning that enrollments could drop even further. While some students who went to private schools received guidance such as extra coursework and study plans, most students who attend government schools did not receive any kind of aid.
The Benefits and Challenges of the Teleschool Channel
Launched on April 13, 2020, two weeks after schools closed, the educational channel has around 54 million subscribers. Pakistan has also developed a text messaging system for 250,000 subscribers to raise the engagement levels of students with teachers. The Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood stated that Teleschool has been very successful, but he also acknowledged that the channel is not a perfect replacement for the classroom.
According to education experts, Teleschool is not the best when it comes to quality. Some programs have too fast of a pace, which makes them incomprehensible to many students. For example, in one of the kindergartens’ English classes, students were learning about the letter “u.” On the other hand, in one of the second-graders’ science classes, the program taught students about the “eyesight of owls [and]delved into how unique proteins in the birds’ eyes sense different light wavelengths.” This is clearly beyond second-graders’ comprehension level.
Improving Education Access During COVID-19
Because Pakistan planned to reopen schools on July 15, 2020, Teleschool only had enough content for up to that date. But because government officials moved the reopening date to September 15, Teleschool lacked content after July 15. Furthermore, Teleschool is not accessible to poor families. Poor families, which includes those comprising farmers and day laborers, cannot buy television sets. To resolve this problem, the Federal Education Ministry is working on developing educational radio programming.
With the objective to expand equal learning access to Pakistani children during the pandemic, and to ensure that “the most vulnerable children are not left behind,” the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has granted $20 million to Pakistan. The World Bank grant has also shown support by funding $5 million to Teleschool in order to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus on education in Pakistan.
– Alison Choi