Learning poverty

28 Oct 2020

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A RECENT report by the World Bank has revealed that Pakistan’s economy could incur considerable losses in the next couple of decades because of Covid-19’s impact on the education system. The report Learning Losses in Pakistan due to Covid-19 School Closures has predicted that learning poverty in the country might rise to 79pc from the present 75pc, owing to the closure of schools. It states that around 930,000 children — an increase of around 4.2pc on the existing figure of 22m — are expected to drop out from primary and secondary schools as a result of closures and other logistical problems caused by the pandemic. Considering that around 44pc of our children are already out of school, these fresh pandemic-related dropouts could well mean that half of our child population will have no opportunity to learn, grow and eventually become productive members of the workforce. If this damage is not remedied, says the report, the country could in the next 20 years incur a loss of between $67bn and $155bn in GDP at its current value. Keeping in mind the shambolic state of the country’s public education system, these predictions hardly come as a surprise. Logistical issues including the absence and poor qualifications of teachers, rundown school buildings and lack of drinking water and bathrooms are no less than a curse that no government has managed to break.

Though the government has, since the start of the pandemic, attempted to put in place a remote learning infrastructure, it has largely been ineffective due to lack of digital access and societal factors. To prevent new dropouts, the World Bank report suggests conducting mass enrolment drives with cash incentives for families to encourage them to send their children to school. The fresh crisis notwithstanding, the government can also use these strategies to boost overall school enrolment and improve the graph of learning poverty. A little investment in education would go a long way in ensuring an economically stable future for Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020