In countries like Pakistan, where inequalities in every sector including education challenge the provision of basic rights, online and virtual learning solutions will not cover all students
The announcement by the government of its plan to reopen educational institutions across the country from September 15, subject to reviews in August to evaluate the epidemic situation has triggered a risk versus need debate. With the pandemic situation still unpredictable, concerns regarding the safety and well being of one of the most vulnerable segments of the society – children and young adults – as a result of this decision hold merit. Given the past experiences of lax ‘lockdowns’ and greater ease of movement despite an announced policy of strict implementation of basic safety SOPs and measures, the country witnessed a surge in cases – especially when greater public exposure was allowed, for instance during and after Eid ul Fitr.
Have we learned any lessons? Are we better prepared this time? What are the contingency plans? Are we truly ready? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered adequately before we arrive at a final decision to move towards reopening of educational institutions. But while the challenges are aplenty, good practices elsewhere offer at least partial solutions to some of those. Hybrid learning models are under deliberation both at home and abroad. As some of our contributors note, they offer a solution – to continue learning while allowing students a limited in-person [physical classroom] experience when and where needed. This can reduce the exposure and the contingent risk.
But in countries like Pakistan, where inequalities in every sector including education challenge the provision of basic rights, online and virtual learning solutions will not cover all students. With public sector education already challenged with learning outcomes and resources even pre-Covid, the post-pandemic new-normal makes the situation all the more problematic. With inequalities driving narratives and policies, it comes as no surprise that there is little conversation about children that have never had these resources and online tools and applications.
The debate about the right time to reopen schools, businesses and other operations is as old as the debate on smart and general lockdowns. There is a price to closing down societies and many across the world are paying that. But perhaps there is inequity in the comparison with some being more capable of enduring the restrictions than others. Education, sadly, suffers the same fate. In this special report, we discuss this and more.