Educationists discuss challenges of teaching rural students amid pandemic

10 Jul 2020

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Sadiqa Salahuddin speaks during the event on Thursday.—White Star
Sadiqa Salahuddin speaks during the event on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: ‘Is access to education during the Covid-19 pandemic a privilege or a right?’ This was the topic of an online session organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) through Zoom on Thursday.

The speakers were Sadiqa Salahuddin, founder and executive director of the Indus Resource Centre, and Rahila Fatima, head of strategic development, The Citizens Foundation (TCF), with Kausar S. Khan, adviser, community engagement with the Indus Health Network, as the moderator.

“These days we find people talk of theory while being behind on practice. So we thought of listening to our two educationists today to understand their way of practice in continuing with the education of students during the Covid-19 situation to develop theory from there,” said Kausar Khan.

Talking about their method of teaching before the pandemic and how they are continuing with their work under the present circumstances, Ms Salahuddin said that with most of their schools, including those which they are running in partnership with the government, located in Sindh’s interior, they could not really run them sitting in Karachi without getting the people there involved.

“For this, we have village education committees where our teachers, who are also local, keep in touch with the students in their localities in order to keep them engaged in their education. Having local teachers is an advantage that way,” she said.

‘We have village education committees where our teachers keep in touch with the students’

She also explained about their project where there are certain people already looking after the affairs of their teachers and staff while monitoring their progress. “Teachers are encouraged to focus on an education that doesn’t overlook co-curricular activities and local culture.”

Coming to the Covid-19 period, she said there is no need to feel inferiority complex when looking at online classes being organised by elite schools. “We have equipment issues, budget issues, so we can’t be like them,” she said.

She continued that the lockdown happened in late February when their school students were preparing for their final exams that were to take place in March. “When we realised that the students were going to miss their exams, we got in touch with our project staff to connect with their head teachers and prepare and deliver worksheets to students for them to be able to solve at home. But it was not easy when we realised that photocopying 20 sheets each for 3,000 children cost a lot. Still, the students who were being given the work happily did it. Their enthusiasm made us prepare more worksheets for them,” she said.

She pointed out that even though only 13 per cent of the students had access to smartphones in villages, their teachers had them and they all remained in touch regarding their students’ progress. It formed useful clusters of teacher networks. Some teachers also recorded teaching videos and uploaded them on YouTube for their students. They were teaching in Sindhi, English and they were also holding mathematics classes. And in doing all this, their own confidence was also building as was capacity among them.

“The village children were kept involved in their studies this way. But they have also been asking when the schools will reopen because the five hours they spend in school allows them to enjoy their childhood, as the rest of the time they are involved in doing domestic chores,” she said.

Rahila Fatima then explained how they kept the students in their over 1,600 schools all over the country, not lose touch with their education. “During the initial days of Covid-19 we were confused ourselves as we thought that things would normalise soon,” she said.

“But when that didn’t happen, we initiated desk research to look at how other countries were able to carry out the schooling of their students during other pandemics such as Ebola or SARS. In doing so we also reached out to organisations in those countries to understand how they went about things.

“One thing was clear. We needed to keep the children motivated so that they come back to school when schools reopen,” she said.

“We did this through airing our programme Ilm ka Angan on PTV’s Taaleem Ghar channel along with other channels. For older students of classes five to eight, we came out with an educational and entertainment magazine with several stories and activities for which they could also send in stuff. The magazine, which first came out in May as a pilot publication is now fortnightly and our students can lay their hands on it during the brief two-hour weekly sessions with their local teachers that focus on revision, recall and practice,” she said.

For older students of classes nine and 10, she said the TCF set timetables to connect with students through smartphones. “We found someone in their family or neighbourhood with a smartphone that they could borrow for two to three hours three or four times a week for studying purposes,” she said.

Finally, Kaleem Durrani, regional coordinator for the HRCP, thanked the participants and those who joined them for their valuable input.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2020