ISLAMABAD    -   Speakers at a webinar on Tuesday stressed that lack of digital infrastructure in remote areas affected the girls’ education in the country during COVID-19 situation.

The webinar, first in this series, focused on how the Digital Divide is impacting children, especially girls’ education during ongoing Corona pandemic in Pakistan. The discussion was moderated by Haroon Yasin, Co- Founder of Orenda and Taleemabad. 

The webinar examined the availability of internet infrastructure in remote areas in Pakistan as well as the gender dimensions of accessibility to digital devices. 

According to panellist Sumera Mehboob, Director Mechanism for Rational Change (MERC), “Schools have been shut since January in Balochistan and the biggest challenge for us is reaching out to the parents and students who do not own smart phones, even if some parents own mobile phones they are shared with the entire household and not easily accessible to the girl child.” 

The panellists also pointed out the impact of school closures on students’ daily routine and the negative effect it will have in terms of achieving learning outcomes. 

Due to the lack of digital infrastructure available in remote areas in Pakistan the biggest challenge is connecting with students. As pointed out by Marvi Soomro, Founder IEI Pakistan, students in Gilgit-Baltistan were further isolated due to lack of internet access and it was impossible for students and teachers to be connected and get access to educational material. 

Since students were not attending school and were required to work in the fields or contribute to communal work which could hamper their progress. Lack of digital skills was also a significant challenge discussed for both teachers and girls specifically. 

Ms. Nadia Naviwala, shared that approx. 60% of teachers in TCF had access to mobile data and even among those who had access to data didn’t have the skills to use it. 

Another Panellist Roohullah Gulzari, Manager Ilm Exchange, talked about the challenge of curriculum alignment of the digital content available and the lack of digital infrastructure and skills available to low cost private schools in Pakistan which comprises 40% of the total schools in Pakistan. 

Solutions discussed during the webinar included the tele-school channel available to thousands of students across the country. Ms. Umbreen Arif, Technical Advisor at the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Training, said that Tele-school programme was launched with the help of Ed-tech companies specifically to bridge the learning poverty in Pakistan that can exacerbate due to school closures. 

The government has also received 2 million dollar funding from the World Bank to produce content with the help of Ed-tech partners and is also introducing distance learning solutions for offline content. 

Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Pakistan Editor Arab News, highlighted the role of Ed-tech companies in providing access to quality content for Tele-school initiative and its potential to scale and create solutions to bridge this digital divide.