ISLAMABAD    -   Speakers on Thursday in an education convention held here stressed that novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought unprecedented limitation in education and government must work to provide internet in far flung areas.

Pakistan Coalition for Education held a policy discussion as part of its 11th Annual Convention in Islamabad themed around “Education in the COVID era and Beyond.”

The discussion brought focus to the host of unprecedented issues and limitations COVID-19 has brought forth, simultaneously widening the pre-existing divides in the education system.

National Coordinator of PCE Zehra Arshad, commenced the discussion with an overview of the educational landscape under COVID-19 and how the already marginalised segments of the society have had to face the brunt of the shortcomings of the system these past few months.

She highlighted how Pakistan’s shift towards e-learning and online digital educational platforms may have helped soften the blow, it has unveiled and magnified the inequalities that exist in the education system.

The online education has further exacerbated accessibility issues in education due to unavailability of broadband access in majority areas of the country, especially for children who do not belong to privileged backgrounds. In case of women, the cultural and social barriers further restrict girls’ and women’s access to any form of information technology.

Although the government’s Teleschool initiative has been timely and smart considering the chosen medium, it is important to be cognizant of the student population that either cannot afford a television or have been forced into labour or domestic chores as a result of the pandemic, she said.

Areeba Shahid, Executive Director, Pakistan Youth Change Advocates shared the findings of a recent publication on out of school girls. The event also highlighted the importance of localisation of SDG-4 and the need for synchronisation between Pakistan’s international commitments and national policy frameworks on education to find a coherent and unified way forward. Mr. Zafarullah Khan, Former Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services emphasised to standardise the government education system. 

Usama Khilji, Director BoloBhi added that internet facilities in rural areas is rare in Pakistan. Pakistan must use the Universal Service fund (USF) to provide modern internet connectivity to the far-flung regions. He further added that the government must consider internet connectivity as fundamental right of a citizen. 

Harris Khalique also highlighted the areas where the education system is lacking and stated access to education is fundamental human right, adopting a bill is not enough, the legislative oversight of these policies is much more important in ensuring the accountability and transparency.