Just when schools and colleges in Pakistan reopened and life seemed to be returning to normalcy, the lockdown was extended, putting education at a greater risk than ever before.
Pakistan was one of the first countries that announced the closure of educational institutes to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and is still subject to repeated temporary reopening and closings.
An analysis of a study by a large-scale education systems research program, called RISE, suggests that if the 14-week closure of schools after the earthquake in 2005 was detrimental for student learning, this 18-month pandemic-induced closure is likely to have long-lasting effects on Pakistan’s human capital.
The shortcomings faced by remote learning as a result of digital inequalities and technological inabilities have created a huge gap in learning among students. Not only are they unable to learn new concepts and skills but are at the risk of forgetting what they learned earlier.
Additionally, the constant postponing and foregoing of examinations has raised serious concerns about the inability to assess the standards of learning and student achievement. This lack of assessment will harm students’ current level of learning and adoptions of skills and will affect their participation in future remedial policies to recover the losses in learning.
Geven and Hassan’s World Bank report on learning losses in Pakistan due to pandemic-induced school closures showed that Pakistani children who have already accumulated only 5.1 years of learning due to low-quality schooling systems might eventually only accumulate between 4.8 and 4.3 years by the end of the closure of the schools. However, it is important to note that the detection of these losses can take longer than expected, and the consequences may even be worse than anticipated.
Students Engage to Disengage
Earlier this year, students staged massive protests across Sindh and Punjab following the Ministry of Education’s announcement that examinations will be conducted in-person and on-campus. Even though the call for the canceling or postponing of examinations originated from the genuine concern of being unprepared due to inadequate remote learning facilities and poor internet connectivity, it was also an example of students disengaging with the system of educational assessment that has been set in place for years. They refused to take such examinations and requested to be promoted in compensation for the hindrances in their educational experiences.
While the students who are struggling to maintain their academic standards may be empathized with, it must be noted that many students do not fully comprehend the consequences of the cancellation of examinations. The circulation of social media memes and jokes about not wanting to go to school and hoping for them to remain closed are adequate proof of this.
It is crucial for students to be kept engaged and made fully aware of the repercussions of the closure of schools on their learning and skills development so that they may participate responsibly in the future remedial strategies of the educational institutions to compensate for this huge learning gap.
Long Term Impact on Skills: Are Students Industry-ready?
Recent studies have focused primarily on the short-term economic losses caused by the closure of colleges and universities across the world but little has been done to assess the long-term issues affecting both the students as the economies.
The World Bank’s Human Development Project revealed that children in Pakistan can achieve only 39 percent of their full potential, given the current educational and health opportunities. However, with both their health and education in jeopardy during the pandemic, it is certain that students will continue to suffer from a loss of knowledge and skills development that will prevent them from gaining footholds in the job market. Reductions in overall incomes and huge lost earnings by the global economy are already being predicted by international organisations, and must not be ignored.
The suspension of assessments and certifications, the unavailability of adequate educational platforms, and a huge fall in student motivation have disrupted the flow of growth and skill development among young people. Pakistan’s human capital resources that are already limited in quantity and quality are at the greatest risk of further deterioration.
While recent college graduates are facing unemployment or even underemployment due to limited vacancies in the job market, current school students are bound to face the consequences of this educational crisis in the coming years. However, their reasons for unemployment may not be the lack of job openings but the lack of skills and training needed to be able to fit into various industries.
If necessary measures to mitigate these long-term effects are not taken into account now, it might become impossible to control the imminent damage in the future.
Road to Recovery
It is impossible to truly capture the scale of the impact of the closure of schools on human capital in the upcoming years, and suggesting a concrete set of recovery measures that is guaranteed to mitigate the losses is also not feasible. However, based on past and current experiences, there are certain steps that can be taken to facilitate the process of recovery:
- Schools and colleges must be prepared to employ various methods of assessing students’ progress and learning abilities to create accelerated programs once they reopen.
- Rigorous training of teachers and staff must be conducted to equip them with skills and resources to help students recover the academic losses.
- Students must be taught and encouraged to maintain efficient learning habits to easily catch up with their studies when their remedial classes begin.
- Various means of including extracurricular activities and playtime for students must also be considered because social isolation and restrictions in physical activities have affected students’ mental health and prevent many from performing well.
- EdTech companies and online learning platforms should offer innovative learning resources to complement student growth.
- The government must allocate a reasonable budget to expand digital connectivity for students and support teaching and learning resources for schools.
It is, therefore, harmful to assume that reopening schools will eliminate the ongoing educational crisis. The effects of this crisis may take time to appear but the need to prepare to fight them is urgent.