There is much more than science and vaccines that is needed to fight pandemic outbreaks like the COVID-19. It requires social responsibility and collective action, something that we lack in Pakistan seriously. Moazma Ashraf contends why educational reforms are crucial to fighting pandemics effectively and enabling people prepare for future disease outbreaks of this scale.



 

ducational reforms cannot be segregated from their socio-economic impact, especially during a pandemic when the scale and pace of change is unprecedented. Several analysts, educationists and policy makers have been giving their insights about the merits and drawbacks of the new spike in e-learning culture, especially in context of its viability for developing states. It is crucial to address the notions regarding online education including its discriminatory nature, its ability to widen the already existing rift between the higher education and job market (due to absence of application and field work), the expected lack in socializing ability among students and feeble digital infrastructure of not only educational institutions but also of the state.

The alternative approach transpires the same system as an opportunity whereby the private and public sector institutions can bridge the gap between technology and educational practices and policy making via healthy collaboration. The question that really needs an answer is that to what extent the system and mode of education can be altered during the international crisis to not only minimize the adverse impact of the current pandemic, but also prepare the socio-economic and political apparatus of the country for any other pandemic in the future. The need is to make both the societal attitudes and state machinery more adaptive. This requires long-term changes or reforms at the basic level of curriculum design and teaching methodology. The socio-economic factors that contributed to the spread of COVID-19 are correlated with the absence of a robust, professional, and research and value-based education system in third world countries, including Pakistan. 

 

The socio-economic factors that contributed to the spread of COVID-19 are correlated with the absence of a robust, professional, and research and value-based education system in third world countries, including Pakistan. 

 

This particular research piece aims at the accenting the three key areas in which the three tiers of government (federal, provincial and local) along with other stakeholders have to drive consensus-based model to become more responsive, efficient and even proactive, to revamp our education system, to acquire competitive workforce and responsible societal behaviors. This particular focus on social development factors eventually will build the state’s capacity to go from being susceptible to well-fortified in any further un-foreseen circumstances. 

 

Controlling High Population Density in Urban Areas

COVID-19 differs slightly from other infectious diseases because of its spread from person-to-person. The need for social distancing, to combat the trajectory of the disease outbreak, puts the traditional rural-urban migration pattern under suspicion of being unsuitable for the current and future natural disasters. The major incentive for people to move to urban areas is better education and job opportunities. Apart from extensive awareness campaign to tackle population explosion, another major move has to be the provision of primary education, vocational training along with subsidized internet services for online higher education in rural areas across the country. Population clustering in urban areas can potentially be controlled and some level of equity in education may reflect in upscaling and expansion of skill-based, even professional workforce. 

 

Religious Radicalism and Academic Curriculum 

The complex social fabric of Pakistan primarily has been a result of notorious intermingling of religious radicalism with state affairs as well as academic curriculum. The state has not been able to halt the embedding of rigid religious beliefs in young minds not only in Madrassas but also in other types of educational institutions, especially in backward areas that are more vulnerable to socio-economic menaces. The issue is highly relevant to the on-going COVID-19 catastrophe, because a majority of the population is not trained to be flexible towards religious practices when needed. Security forces have to withstand massive resilience while stopping people from congregating in mosques despite clear warnings by government authorities and medical experts. This has put extra burden on already crumbling administrative resources. 

There is a dire need to make societal attitudes and state machinery more adaptive. This requires long-term changes or reforms at the basic level of curriculum design and teaching methodology.

The curriculum in Pakistan, at all levels of education, is state-controlled with its legitimacy in an apparently democratic country under debate. The point is, if such control is to pertain, then, it must be directed at pulling the masses out of the primitive and rigid values that no longer serve any of the contemporary needs. Coronavirus is only one depiction of how the complex microorganisms are formed and mutated exponentially, thus demanding a proactive role of science and technology. In the context of Pakistan, technology boost can only be attained by rebuilding people’s trust in science and abolishing the predominantly perceived conflict between religion and technology through educational up gradation and modernization at grassroots level.

 

Social Responsibility and Civic Duty

Comparative analysis with some of the experiences from Spanish Influenza (1918) reveals that the social structure and values in Pakistan stand at a point where the present day developed world was over a century ago. Examples include people rushing towards markets when closure of public places was announced, medical students being reluctant to go on emergency call to treat patients, lack of nurses because of nursing being viewed as an undervalued profession and constant struggle of authorities to persuade people to prefer collective health safety over personal financial gains. This bears an uncanny resemblance to the situation in Pakistan in recent weeks, and shows that we have a long way to go. Responsible citizens cannot emerge out of ignorant masses during a calamity.

To reduce urban population density, provision of primary education, vocational training along with subsidized internet services for online higher education in rural areas across the country is a must

For any government policy and its implementation mechanism to effectively function, well-informed and socially responsible citizens are essential. Awareness here is not confined to that of constitutional fundamental rights only, but general awareness regarding all spheres of life and global changes is crucial. That comes when the citizens are trained from an early age to think critically and perform pragmatically. The education system from the primary level has to be designed to inculcate a variety of subjects along with ethical and social grooming. Resultantly, in the long-run, the majority of the population can become empowered enough not only to question the ruling authorities but also to support the government initiatives and abide by the laws and ordinances in critical circumstances.  

No country can avoid the large-scale socio-economic paralysis as a result of a pandemic. However, the priority should be to make the direction of societal shift upward right after the pandemic is over. Government institutions become proactive only when there is accountability by an empowered and well-aware public. Social development brought through extensive analysis and refurbishment of the current education system is the only viable path towards effectual social, economic and political performance by the relevant organs, sustaining the country during and after any tragedy.  

 

Moazma Ashraf is a Public Policy student and an aspiring policy analyst. Her Twitter handle is @moazma_ashraf12.

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