With the announcement of “school closure” amid covid-19 by the Federal Minister for Education “Shafqat Mehmood”, a celebration started across the country. The minister became the students’ favorite and social media was flooded with praises and memes adoring his move. The reaction from the students is quite natural because schools are not the places where children enjoy learning and teachers enjoy teaching. In general, our schools are hostile, tedious, and haunted. The students are in the schools to meet their parent’s expectations, fulfilling their dreams, or be forced to be in the school. The teachers are in the school because they are paid to be present in the school. There was no surprise when the schools across the country were asked to close again because everyone knew that a second wave of the COVID 19 is going to hit again. The minister announced that teachers should come to school and assign homework to the students, and start online classes.
It seems there was no thought process behind the decision. One cannot simply wakes up in the morning and decides that the whole country’s around 50 million school-going children are to be put on online education. It requires preparation, developing an emergency policy, preparing teachers, developing infrastructure, and providing resources. Under the current situation, the concept of online classes is ineffective for two distinct reasons; a) those who have awareness, motivation, and affordability, do not need to attend any unprepared one-sided lecturing online class, they have access to YouTube, software, and different Apps to learn on any specific topic in alternate ways. Such students only need guidance to access the trusted sites which most of our teachers are not aware of. b) those living in the marginalized areas, have no access to the prerequisites to attend an online class, nor the access to smartphones or internet.
An estimated 35 % of households in Pakistan have internet access and it will give some level of satisfaction if these children learn something significant from online classes. A small number of schools especially in the private sector started online classes but again fall victim to the traditional system, where the teachers talk and the students listen. The classroom teaching method was taken as it is and moved on WhatsApp and Zoom. The potential of the internet was limited to only video linking session. The system could not notice any significant any Learning Management System (LMS) by a private or public sector school. The LMS has made learning ubiquitous where the students can learn anytime and anywhere. It provides the learners the opportunity to assess their learning. It also provides the school or the system to gauge students’ learning and help them if they need assistance. Some good LMSs across the world are designed in such a way that hazards of gluing to the screens is also removed. They guide their students to carry out activities and projects in their houses and communities and are graded according to their values and efforts.
The other dilemma as a nation we are facing is that there are less creativity and critical thinking. The majority of the teachers either are not equipped with creative thinking skills or do not have access to referencing material so that they could plan and design innovative strategies. This is the right time to break off from traditional approaches of teaching, assessment and introduce alternative ways, including formative assessment techniques, portfolios, and project-based learning. This is high time for teacher education institutes to play their roles in supporting the system amid the pandemic. Yet, the request should emerge from the Education Department, schools, and teachers. It is however pertinent to note that all professional development institutes in the country are not effective most of them the flag career of the traditional education system. So, one should be careful in making the selection.
Now in the current scenario, teachers of both public and private sectors keep on attending schools but unfortunately do not know what to do, they are confused. They do not have the digital resources and operational skills to act in a new way. Online classes are resource-hungry which require technology, power, and an uninterrupted internet facility. Not every teacher can afford a smartphone with an internet package. Similarly, not every school is equipped with essential technological infrastructure. The majority of the public and private teachers cannot use different apps and trusted online resources for enhancing their teaching. Students often have a greater understanding of technology and its use than their teachers. This becomes more terrifying for teachers when they conduct classes on Zoom and WhatsApp.
Students from the underprivileged should be provided with manual tasks that are creative and engaging in critical thinking and problem-solving. On average, 38% of children do not have textbooks and other learning material at home to continue education when schools are closed. Government and other philanthropists should provide them with books, and other stationaries to engage them and mental wellbeing
Sadly, in the tug of war between federal and provincial governments in schools should remain open or not, it is the children who are suffering. Our education system always keeps our young generation at stake by compromising their education.