JGlobal efforts to ensure all children get a good education have been seriously hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pakistan was no different. The closures of educational establishments to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have affected around 40 million students, from pre-primary to higher education. Enrolment, completion and quality of learning were already below the global average in the country, especially among girls.
UNICEF Pakistan has supported a study on measuring the impact of Covid-19 on education in Pakistan. It focused primarily on learning losses due to school closures and measures taken to support the learning of school-aged children to better understand the scale of the problem and build a body of evidence. to inform future policy directions. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in Pakistan, produced by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), aims to provide frequent and credible estimates of the state of education and learning outcomes of children aged 5-16 in rural areas. regions of Pakistan. The ASER research in 2021 was designed to examine the impacts of Covid-19 following the unprecedented school closures of 2020 and early 2021.
The survey was conducted in 16 rural districts (four in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh). A total of 9,392 households with a total of 25,448 children aged 3 to 16, including 21,589 children aged 5 to 16, were surveyed (43% girls, 57% boys). Language (English and Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto) and arithmetic learning assessments were conducted for children aged 5-16 using ASER instruments corresponding to Sustainable Development Goal 4.1. 1.a.
In addition, 457 public schools and 198 private schools were surveyed to determine their ability and willingness to follow government standards for safely restarting schools.
Quetta, Bolan, Gwadar and Awaran in Balochistan; Peshawar, Chitral, South Waziristan and Torghar in KP; Muzaffargarh, Sheikhupura, Bhakkar and Jhelum in Punjab; and Karachi-Malir, Sukkur, Tharparkar and Dadu in Sindh are among the surveyed districts. Covid-19 was found to have altered society and worsened social and economic disparities. Governments around the world have banned face-to-face teaching in schools as part of measures to stem its spread, affecting 95% of the world’s student population – the biggest education disruption in history.
According to UNESCO data from April 2020, Covid-19 caused school closures for 1.6 billion students worldwide, with 188 countries closing schools. In the wake of Covid-19, Pakistan was one of the first countries in the world to implement widespread school closures. Schools in Sindh were closed on February 27, 2020; the rest of the country followed suit on March 14. Grades 9 through 12 reopened on September 15, 2020, followed by Grades 6 through 8 on September 23, and Kindergarten through Grade 5 on September 30, 2020, respectively. Following the third wave of the pandemic (April to May 2021), all learners, whether in private or public schools, started taking sandwich courses. Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s education system was in crisis, with 32% of children aged 5-16 out of school and dismal learning outcomes for those who did.
The closure of educational institutions as a result of Covid-19 has had a direct impact on 40 million school-aged children, ranging from pre-primary to secondary, amplifying the dangers and vulnerabilities of an already weak education system. Concerns have been raised about the impact of the suspension of face-to-face teaching on student learning. Data on this topic is sparse and evidence of learning loss under lockdown has been slow to surface. School systems, unlike other sectors such as commerce or health, often do not provide data at regular intervals. Online solutions for teaching, let alone assessment and accountability, have proven difficult for schools and instructors to implement. Previous crises have demonstrated that the effects of school closures can last for years; four years after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, an entire cohort of learners aged 3 to 15 had lower academic achievement, despite major remediation efforts.
Although school closures have been beneficial in facilitating social distancing measures, they can have major implications for education and learning. While previous research in other countries has looked at the effects of summer holidays on learning, as well as the disruption caused by events such as extreme weather or teacher strikes, Covid-19 poses a single problem. Parents are less able to provide support for learning due to its concomitant economic repercussions, the health and mortality risks of the pandemic, as well as the cost of social isolation, imposing an additional psychological burden. The prevalence of family violence is expected to climb, putting already vulnerable students at risk.
When schools disappear, there is no new learning and what has already been learned is likely to be forgotten. Due to the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, a full-scale survey could not be undertaken, so it was agreed, in cooperation with UNICEF, to conduct a limited survey to analyze the effects of the pandemic on learning.
ASER 2021 is the world’s largest citizen survey of household learning. It was led by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi in collaboration with other stakeholders. ASER launched a research project to analyze the impact of Covid-19 on Pakistani education after a series of unusual school closures in 2020 and early 2021. The survey sample included 12 rural districts ( 4 in Punjab, 4 in Sindh and 4 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Language and arithmetic skills were assessed in 7,176 families, 18,838 children aged 3-16 and 16,058 children aged 5-16 (41% girls and 59% boys) from 345 public schools and 184 schools private.
There is a stark difference between the ASER results for 2019 and 2021. Enrollment fell slightly in the 6-16 age group, but dramatically in the 3-5 age groups. Covid-19 has caused financial hardship for many families, leading to increased dropouts. More girls dropped out than boys.
Key findings include:
1. Punjab has the highest learning levels followed by KP and Sindh. Balochistan has the lowest levels of learning. Balochistan has the highest learning losses, followed by Punjab, Sindh and KP. Learning losses were greatest in low-performing and high-performing districts according to the Alif Ailaan ranking from 2017.
2. In almost all abilities and grades, girls lost more learning than boys during Covid-19 school closures. This prevented or even reversed a trend of increasing learning outcomes for girls, which outperformed boys in some circumstances.
3. During the school closure period, children who attended public schools had a higher learning decline than those who attended private schools. These declines are more pronounced in the lower classes (classes 1 and 3).
4. Learning outcomes improve with mother’s education and household affluence.
5. During school closures, almost 60% of young people currently enrolled in school spend less than an hour a day on their studies.
6. While 40% of children who had mobile phones at home used them to study, younger children had less access to them than older children. If school closures happen again, 55% of children don’t feel confident in their ability to study on their own.
7. About 32% of children reported watching educational programming on PTV’s Tele-School programs. Although Tele-School has a large reach, its impact is unknown. The study also found that 54.5% of households with TV access had not used PTV Tele-School as a learning aid for their children. This highlights the disparities that exist between individuals and social groups not only in terms of access to technology but also in terms of the ability to benefit from it, with low “digital literacy” and/or “digital motivation”. .
8. Through BISP, Ehsaas, Punjab Social Protection Authority (PSPA) and Akhuwat initiatives, household social protection coverage increased from 10.4% to 11.4% in the 16 districts from 2019 to 2021. Account given the expansion of targeted social protection instruments for education during the Covid-19 period, from early childhood to primary, secondary and post-secondary, this could be an important link to offset the deprivation of learning and development. access for those most in need (ensuring that at least 50% are girls) through a life-long approach .
Elementary students are experiencing a learning crisis due to school closures. Learning losses are more common in young children who have not yet established a solid foundation for learning. Pakistan’s learning crisis is part of a deeper equity crisis, with girls, children from low-income families and children from certain geographic regions suffering greater learning deficits.
Therefore, it is recommended that: Policies and programs be developed to support learning for all children, with a focus on young children and girls. Factors that contribute to inequality in education must be addressed, including through social protection programs for girls’ education and targeted low-tech and no-tech support for children of the poorest households. To jointly promote children’s education, a new social compact for learning is needed to develop connections between families, communities and schools, where education technology (EdTech) should be explored for its potential to create innovative learning solutions.
The writer is a researcher and a writer. He holds an LLB, MPhil in Cybercrime and holds a PhD (Computer Science)