The Higher Education Commission’s attempts to provide access to education for students in areas beyond urban centres is a worthwhile effort. By providing students education material through the radio or cell phones, the state can potentially ensure that this unprecedented closures of schools and universities is not a complete waste for students. It goes without saying that educational departments of all provinces and the private sector are all working to make similar efforts, although in the case of rural areas, the problem becomes just a little more complicated.

Internet access is an immediate problem, one that the HEC and other educational departments and institutions alike recognise, which is why radio is being considered as an option. The Minister of Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry has also offered his ministry’s support in increasing broadband and internet coverage across Pakistan. But in a population of an estimated 202 million people, internet penetration only extends to 15-30 percent of the population, based on various estimates. Out of those that are not online, some of them undoubtedly do not have access, but a vast number currently also lacks the necessary skills and literacy needed to make productive use of the internet.

And this is something that we have not been able to adequately address. Equal attention must be given to improving access and provide the necessary skills and literacy needed to ensure that this lockdown actually manages to bring more of the populace online, and as a result make us collectively more productive remotely. HEC and other bodies associated to the education sector can develop tools for digital literacy, that can be provided through both cell phones and radio – the tools identified by HEC and others – to deliver information on digital literacy as well.

No one is expecting our entire population to be completely digital as soon as any of these measures are rolled out. But with the right strategy the government, state institutions and the private sector can jointly use this pandemic to our advantage in spheres of health, education and specifically, digital literacy.