Children’s education badly affected due to pandemic: survey

Published October 21, 2021
Children riding on a bike with their family wear facemasks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Karachi on October 29, 2020. — AFP/File
Children riding on a bike with their family wear facemasks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Karachi on October 29, 2020. — AFP/File

KARACHI: A report on losses students suffered because of the Covid-19 pandemic — Measuring Learning Losses due to Covid-19 — prepared by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) with the support of United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) was launched, virtually via Zoom, on Wednesday.

The study is the first step towards collecting gender disaggregated and focused evidence to assist the government as it grapples with impacts of the pandemic.

The estimates reported are from a survey conducted across 16 rural districts of Pakistan — four in each province — using the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan tools.

The survey covers a total of 9,392 households, 25,448 children aged 3-16 and 21,589 children aged 5-16 (43 per cent girls and 57pc boys), 457 government schools and 198 private schools.

According to the report, enrolment for the 6-16 age group has dropped by two per cent in 2021 as compared to enrolment for the same age group in 2019.

During the launch, Unicef Pakistan Education Chief Ellen Kalmthout said that the report was a big step forward to think upon what could be done to bring children back to school, especially post Covid-19 while also creating alternative learning pathways for children. “At the end, children do need schools. They can’t learn on their own.”

During school closures, parents/caregivers stepped up to support their children’s learning. Support from household members is reported at 63pc by children as a very positive response.

About 32pc children reported that their schools provided them with learning materials during the closure periods, while 58pc reported that their school management/teachers/head-teachers never reached out to them.

About 32pc reported that they took some learning support from Pakistan Television (PTV) TeleSchool programmes and 40pc of children who had smartphones available in their households reported that they used them for continuing learning.

Speaking about this, M Ali Kemal, the economic policy adviser at the SDG support unit, ministry of planning and development and reform, added that 63pc of the children were getting support from their families and over 22 million children were not going to school.

“The education of mothers is very important as they can teach their children in early years. The overall situation is bleak, but we are looking for solutions for out-of-school children that should also include communities,” he said.

The learning losses for children in grade three were significant. Class three children who can read an Urdu story dropped from 19pc in 2019 to 15pc in 2021, who can read English sentences from 21pc in 2019 to eight per cent in 2021 and who can solve two-digit division from 17pc to 10pc.

Kim Bradford Smith from Education Team Leader at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said: “While the report demonstrates the need to reorient the education system, we need to focus on getting foundational learning rights, address inequalities by focusing on the most marginalised and the poorest.

Similarly, Senior Research Fellow at IDEAS Pakistan and the Interim Dean of School of Education, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Dr Faisal Bari said that the study rightly reports people with no access to technology but there is a need to do more research on family support as parents who are engaged in jobs are not able to support their children.

It was concluded that while the study reveals a gloomy picture of learning losses, programmes must be devised to support the learning of all children specially focusing on young children and girls, especially grade three for foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN).

Education and digital inequities must be tackled through targeted social protection programmes (Ehsaas) for all children, especially girls. Parents are active stakeholders in children’s education and households demonstrate resilience. Ed-Tech (education technology) should be expanded for its potential to provide solutions for improved interactive learning. Facilities in schools need urgent maintenance incorporating new standards for safe schools with non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to tackle such unforeseen pandemic in future.

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood was the chief guest on the occasion. He said that Covid-19 had exacerbated the already existing challenge of learning poverty. “The learning losses study will help the government work towards improving the learning levels of children in coordination with provincial governments,” he said.

He added that initiatives such as PTV TeleSchool would continue besides providing distance, Ed-tech and remedial learning solutions to bridge the digital divide.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2021

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