Education cannot wait

Learning continues for students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite the pandemic

Gulnaz Jabeen & A. Sami Malik
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UNICEF/Pakistan/Ramzan Chaudhry
29 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a global health crisis but has also created a learning crisis across the world for children and adolescents of school going age. During the first wave of COVID-19, education systems in most countries including Pakistan, were adversely affected as the pandemic prompted a country-wide closures of almost all institutions.

School closures and Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) adopted during the pandemic forced school managements to adapt innovative measures such as online classes and remote learning through WhatsApp groups.

Schools in Pakistan closed on 16 March 2020 and remained so till mid-September 2020. In the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), more than 5 million school-going children were affected. Though some of the schools initiated online learning, only a small percentage of students had access to internet and other alternate learning modalities. For most students, the process of learning came to a halt. Many dropped out adding to the already high number of Out of School Children in the province.

“When the schools suddenly closed, I was very disappointed, says Rubab (11), a grade five student at the Govt. Girls Primary School, Rehmanabad, Hangu. “My parents explained the reason and I understood that it was important to stay at home and be safe, but my education was disrupted. I tried to study on my own but without my teacher’s guidance, it was not the same.”

When the educational institutions eventually opened in September, students returned to their classes and just as the process of learning started to gain momentum, the second wave of COVID-19 hit the country with increased severity and the institutions had to be closed again.

“While the schools were closed during the first phase of the COVID-19, online teaching and learning continued but some of my friends did not have internet access at home, so they were left out, says Munazza (15), a 9th grade student from Modernage Private School, Abbottabad. “When schools reopened, we were allowed to go to school once a week, but it helped all students to continue studies more effectively under the guidance and supervision of our teachers.”

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UNICEF/Pakistan/Ramzan Chaudhry
As schools have reopened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, students and teachers practice Standard Operating Procedures such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance inside the classrooms.

COVID-19 is an emergency of enormous scale and extremely unusual in nature. It has derailed socio-economic progress and pushed many countries further back in their quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG 4 – “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Unless urgent and innovative measures are taken to help students continue to learn, irreparable damage to the future generations seems inevitable.

Cognizant of the fact that precious time towards teaching and learning has already been lost, the Government of KP is taking all possible measures to ensure that students continue to learn. As one of its key development partners, UNICEF shares the concern and considers reopening of schools a priority in line with the best interests of children. However, public health considerations are paramount.

As the number of COVID-19 positive cases continued to increase in the province, UNICEF advocated with the Ministry of Elementary & Secondary Education Department (E&SED) KP to adopt contingency measures in educational institutions. Consequently, the Directorate issued a notification to all District Education Offices to direct teachers to assign 4 to 5 weeks home assignments to students so that in case of extended closure of schools, children have a study plan and the learning process continues.

With technical and financial support of UNICEF, Provincial Institute for Teacher Education has developed standardized Homework Assignments for all grade levels and uploaded them on the official website of E&SED KP. The Homework assignments were developed taking guidance from the Accelerated Academic Calendars and Accelerated Worksheets developed by the Directorate of Curriculum & Teacher Education (DCTE) KP.

On 25 November 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education again announced country wide closures of schools, due to second wave of COVID-19. Teachers of all schools – public and private, as well as ALP centres supported by UNICEF – were to attend schools following SOPs, while students  are given appointments to visit school, so that each student comes to school just once a week to get the homework assignments checked and receive a new assignment for the next week.

"For children, coming to school once or twice a week, and staying at home rest of the days to complete their assignments, would help them to have a sense of normalcy, and structured activities for the entire week"

Memoona Nazli, Senior Teacher

“It is a visionary decision taken by the Government of KP which reflects our preparedness, readiness, ability to think out of the box, and the ability to cope and manage challenging situations, said Hafiz Muhammad Ibrahim, Director E & SE, KP. “It also shows our serious determination to improve education situation in the Province. This way we aim to reduce the risk of many children losing interest, and never returning to schools.”

UNICEF/Pakistan/Gulnaz Jabeen
A student explains the importance of proper and frequent handwashing with soap to her peers at one of the public schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Teachers are appreciative of the decision by the government and feel that under the circumstances, adapting alternative measures of teaching and learning is imperative. Some teachers manage public announcements through mosques informing children about their attendance schedules. Others have developed detailed study schedules for their students.

“For children coming to school one or twice a week, and stay at home rest of the days to complete their assignments, would help them to have a sense of normalcy, and structured activities for the entire week, said Mrs. Memoona Nazli, Senior Teacher at Government Girls High School Chitta Batta, Mansehra, KP.

“It keeps children in touch with studies in an organized manner. We remain extra vigilant to make sure that students observe SOPs, stay safe and continue the momentum of studies. It is a widely appreciated decision and I am happy to be part of it.”

Parents are happy too that children will not be losing precious learning time.