The COVID-19 crisis has tested all aspects of our lives like never before and like most things, the education sector in Pakistan has been hit and exposed badly. But if we have known one thing about education in Pakistan from the crisis, it’s that the state of affairs really, really calls for concern and concrete action. We discuss what we ought to be doing to make post-pandemic education a worthwhile effort once the disease is behind us.
ducation these days – like most aspects of human life on the planet – is undergoing a period of critical transition. The traditional classroom has been replaced with a virtual one, school uniform has been out fashioned for comfy PJs, and writing assignments no more require pen and paper. This unexpected change in everyday life has come within four months of the virus first being reported in China and never did we think living would come to this.For the first time in recent history that we are experiencing a lockdown of global proportions and perhaps it is the first time that the flow of education has been disrupted to this extent. The UNICEF estimates that close to 1.5 billion schoolchildren around the world face loss of learning as schools in over 191 countries have been ordered shut to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The long term impact of the virus-driven lockdown is yet to be fully understood, however, one thing is clear, that it is high time we rethink what education truly entails.
Changing Course of Education
As Dr. Imdad Hussain of FC College, a professor with years of experience teaching post-graduate students, points out, “We are still to learn what education means; it cannot be limited to textbooks as many believe to be the case.” Owing to the coronavirus, a realization has dawned on us with renewed appreciation just how globalized of a world we live in today. No one incident of any significance can be deemed an isolated incident. Education must adapt to the needs of the time and become the common denominator of intellectual connection. In his conversation with Academia Magazine, Professor Imdad emphasized that education should be a catalyst in bringing about social change and instilling a sense of social responsibility in individuals. The coronavirus pandemic is high time to take decisive action and move towards an education system that carries the social aspect of the educative process as a significant pillar of the institution.
Education should be a catalyst in bringing about social change and instilling a sense of social responsibility in individuals which is something we lack, as was exposed by the COVID crisis
The first step of this transformational journey is to redefine the role played by an educator in bringing global connection in the post-pandemic world. Traditionally, educators are seen as vessels of knowledge, and students are only able to gain that knowledge by coming in close proximity with the educator in a classroom setting.And more so than ever, as pointed by Dr Imdad, education is no longer limited to textbook knowledge which the traditional education systems relied on for years. Today, the narrative is changing in favor of a more inclusive model that takes into account concepts like distant learning and e-classrooms with a focus on sustaining education through all adversities.
Life in the year 2020 has made it clear that the dissemination of knowledge neither requires a classroom nor does it need constant physical presence of a teacher to be effective. However, what it does need – and need desperately – is an adaptable and flexible approach towards learning and teaching.More so than ever, the present situation is asking for nurturing social sensibilities regarding emotional intelligence, and respecting the creative abilities of both students and teachers who find themselves in a highly unconventional situation.
Building A Resilient System
Another change that should come via the transformation process is building resilience within the education system and its beneficiaries. Resilience is defined as the ability of systems, communities, and countries to manage, mitigate and recover from disasters and conflicts in such a way that the threat of chronic vulnerability is reduced and growth is facilitated. The education and the communities’ ability to weather most crises are strongly interlinked. COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that there is critical need to build resilience within the Pakistani education system. The current situation is a clear indication of how the country is unprepared to continue a seamless delivery of education during a health crisis – or any crisis for that matter.
There is a dire need for resilience within the Pakistani education system. It has become painfully clear how the country is unprepared for education to continue with minimal interruptions during a major crisis.
The teleschool initiative taken by the government and the promise of facilitating online education is a method of mitigating the damage caused by mass school closures. But these measures have been met with limited success. First, we discovered that the country simply does not have the technology infrastructure or internet penetration to sustain mass online education program. Secondly, our teaching community is not adequately equipped to make the transition to online mode of teaching students.
For our students that mostly hail from the Gen-Z category, technology is simply an extension of their own identities. However, the faculty belonging to some two generations prior is being thrust into uncharted territory. So while students were willing to reap the benefits of the online education paradigm, teachers have been having a much harder time trying to adapt to the same.There remains no doubt that once the lockdowns caused by the pandemic end, schools, colleges and universities would be quick to return to their normal routine and mode of teaching. However, it is up to the government and policy makers to strategize to expand the capacity of the education system to prepare for future emergencies.
Building resilience within the education system is a multi-part process, which should begin with an overhaul of the syllabi. The curriculum should be redesigned to sensitize the upcoming generations towards crises, conflict, climate change, health catastrophes, while simultaneously teaching them to cope with situations that present themselves without a whisper, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then there is the issue of training teachers and faculty members to incorporate technology in their teaching practices. If we truly want our education to move online, we must start with making teachers of all cadres comfortable and well versed with technology and how it can be used effectively in the delivery of education.Without teachers first getting comfortable with use of technology, students cannot reasonably be expected to perform beyond a certain degree through these half-baked policy measures.
There is an immediate need for training teachers and faculty members to incorporate technology in their practices. If we truly want our education to move online, we must start with making teachers of all cadres well versed with technology
Our universities must also up their credentials when it comes to providing infrastructure that supports crossing over to the online world. Finally, faculty members must be removed from the pedestal of prestige they are put on irrespective of their performance and should be treated as professionals who are expected to show sustainable results.There have been reports of teachers putting up strong opposition to moving classes online amid the lockdowns because it required more effort than the bare minimum they have been serving up for years and stepping out of the comfort zones they have gotten used to.Though it is true that teaching is one of the most noble of professions, that respect must be reserved for those who do justice to the role, not to those who demand it simply by virtue of being part of the teaching community.
The COVID crisis as another event that reminds us to be worried about our education system. It is an opportunity to examine where we have gotten to in the past few decades and weed out the mistakes we have made along the way. The crisis and its management by authorities has manifested what many knew all along; that our education system is in shambles. One would not be mistaken to say that Pakistan is lagging far behind when it comes to traditional education, and we really should not be even talking about online education when over 32% primary schools in rural areas of Pakistan do not have toilets and 32.2% of all primary schools in Pakistan do not have drinking water.What we need is to ask the following question in earnest: In the decades ahead in the post-pandemic education world, are we to add to the global human capital by offering AI experts, big data engineers and top medical researchers, or will we be content being mundane and contributing to the global human capital by virtue of our unskilled laborers who toil away in foreign lands?For if the answer revolves around AI and medical research, we all have some serious thinking to do.