Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth. (D. Erasmus)
Around one and a half year into the COVID-19, a partial or full closure of educational institutions, particularly schools across the country, has brought about a colossal educational crisis calling for steps that may put the country on the path of immediate education recovery.
To mitigate the impact of school closures, make-up for learning losses and return to pre-pandemic education environment, it’s imperative to mobilize, resume, support and gear up classroom teaching/learning continuity without further loss of time as much damage has been done to education of children during the past one year.
The education crisis shows a dilemma with policymakers facing between closing educational institutions and keeping them open. This cat-and-mouse game has been going on for the last one and a half year and is likely to continue ad infinitum if we disregard the suggestions proffered by seasoned academics and fail to benefit from their expertise thus placing our educational policies at the mercy of those who don’t have even a remote connection with education.
Our policymakers are treating education process on a hit and trial basis thereby hitting hard on the interests of the education trio i.e. students, teachers and parents. Those who are at the helm of affairs fail to realize that the kind of treatment they are giving to education can have far-reaching consequences for the future generation.
The decision makers need to understand that classroom teaching provides not only a face-to-face learning but it also builds students’ confidence, helps in personality building /grooming, raises social skills and awareness. Even a short period of missed school will have consequences in terms of skill growth and social development of students.
In the entire teaching-learning process, personal teacher-pupil interaction is pivotal, and the role of parents is seen as complementary to the input from school. Being the prime driver of learning, parents can only supplement a child’s schooling. There is a need to realize that a thumping majority of students don’t enjoy favourable educational environment at home as around 75% students come from rural background where majority of the parents are illiterate and where there are no online and remote learning facilities available. In such a constrained environment the only viable means of education is classroom teaching which can cater to the need of students belonging to both rural and urban background alike.
Besides, a huge advantage of on-campus education being that it makes it easier for the teacher to know the strong and weak points of his students and gives treatment accordingly. Furthermore, the teacher finds it convenient to provide information to the parents about his child’s progress.
Although schooling at home by parents may work in exceptional and compulsive circumstances, it seems very unlikely that it will successfully supplant the classroom teaching and compensate the learning loss that has occurred due to long closure of educational institutions as it’s well-nigh impossible to create an aura of academic learning at home. Moreover, there are certain other limitations like substantial disparities between families as to the intellectual level, home learning environment and access to the online material and remote/distance learning facilities.
These effects are more serious for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. It may be kept in mind that the aim of education is not merely to stuff the child with lot of information and making him pass examinations, rather the aim is to develop an integrated and well-rounded personality that can only be possible through face-to-face learning and personal interaction with teachers and not through remote/distance learning as it’s happening these days in the pandemic environment.
As for higher education, during the pandemic era, almost all the universities and colleges in the country have switched over to online teaching and assessment replacing the on-campus education and manual examination/assessment which has remained a time-tested and more reliable method of education. This is a new experience for both the teachers and students that has a superficial teaching/learning effect bereft of personal interaction that may lead to assessment error at the end of the semester. However, benefiting from the advanced teaching/ learning tools, classroom teaching and learning process can be made more effective, and manual examination/evaluation more reliable.
Unfortunately, education figures as a last priority with out policy makers. It has been experienced that whenever any calamity big or small, hits the country, education becomes the first casualty. Government needs to understand that when with strict observance of corona SOPs tourism sector can be opened, cricket matches can be organized, markets, shopping malls and restaurants can be allowed to function, why can’t educational institutions be opened with strict observance of corona SOPs by the students, faculty and the administrative staff. Opening educational institutions with strict observance of laid down health protocols sounds pretty logical and is quite manageable.
Lastly, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) and federal education minister are requested to review the corona-induced policy regarding closure of educational institutions, have a detailed sitting with seasoned educationists/academicians, elicit their expert opinion and take a rational decision in the light of their suggestions that could be helpful to revive on-campus education and save the future of students.