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State of education technology in Pakistani schools

Marium Asad

In the post pandemic world, technology is now directly contributing to and changing the traditional approach to learning that was limited mostly to classrooms. The impact of education technology was already significant with institutions such as Bijous and Khan Academy changing the learning experience entirely by giving access to quality education materials online.

These institutions have been especially beneficial for students that may have struggled to keep up with the class, as they can access videos, quizzes and other source material and learn at their own pace.

Even before the pandemic the world had already taken nascent steps to adopt and adapt to elearning while Pakistan was centuries behind. Some first tier schools had started to engage primary level students by introducing videos to break down difficult concepts but it was not enough and the sudden push into holding classes online has been bittersweet.

In my time as a business developer for a start-up specifically focused on introducing tablet-based learning, I realised that even the traditional school systems here do not work well.

It is no secret that Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and suffers from an education and learning crisis of epidemic proportions. Millions live in abject poverty, with little to no access to education and a system that is in shambles. Despite being in school, children in the primary grades are not offered adequate education and they often fail basic learning levels.

As a researcher on the annual status of education report 2018, I was heartbroken to learn that almost 50% of Pakistani students enrolled in grade five cannot perform arithmetic and reading tasks set for the second grade. These poor learning outcomes are not just limited to public schools but also low-cost private schools. As a result, many students are years behind the appropriate learning level for their age group and have weak foundational concepts.

Students with weak foundations struggle throughout their academic life and may opt to drop out since they do not see education changing their future. Instead, they may switch to child labour which seems a more viable option, especially in monetary terms.

Then there are those who have never stepped inside a classroom. Most of these children are based in remote areas where access to even bad quality education is limited and seeking education is not a priority.

Elearning may solve a lot of these problems, especially when it comes to setting a standard of education around the country. However, tech-based learning has its own problems in a place like Pakistan.

Even though many start-ups, including the one that I worked for, have decided to step up and offer low-cost digital solutions, we simply do not have the infrastructure to support it especially at schools that charge Rs5,000 to Rs6,000 per month.

If second tier schools do have adequate infrastructure to support elearning, many school owners are reluctant to shift as they feel like it is a hassle or that it may waste time. I witnessed this resistance first hand, from school owners and teachers alike. Teachers, especially in second tier schools, saw ed-tech solutions as their replacements instead of seeing them as resources they could use to enhance their teaching experience. No matter how apt a digital solution is, if the ones that need to apply it to classrooms are reluctant, even appropriate infrastructure will not make up for it.

Those school owners that did decide to look into the digital solutions we were offering, were only concerned about how it would contribute to their image as a school and barely any school owners asked me the impact on the children, the quality of education and on their learning progression.

There is definitely a need for evolution in the education system, especially now that Covid-19 has shut down schools for the most part. The schools that are able to opt for online learning are not able to keep their students engaged, as course material is usually dry even when taught inside classes, while many schools and students do not have the resources to opt for classes online.

It is necessary that we look for novel ways to supplement our education system for a brighter future and the government should start looking into providing adequate infrastructure to support elearning, especially in government schools to ensure that their tax paying citizens get a world class education.



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