Around the world scientists, researchers and doctors have teamed up, working tirelessly to find a cure and minimize the impact of COVID-19. It is needless to say that the impact the pandemic will have globally cannot be overestimated; safe to say that the world order will be shaken, leaving it debatable whether the globalization as known today will continue – an alien debate only a few months ago.
For the year 2020 IMF had predicted a positive economic situation of the world with a per capita GDP increase in 160 countries on the cards. In January, however, at the start of the outbreak, the organization announced that the “Global Lockdown” recession would shrink global GDP by 3% with 170 countries contributing to the contraction. In her latest interview, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva predicted an even more frightening prediction stating that their earlier prediction “might have been too optimistic”. She went on to emphasize to the nations the importance of getting ahead of the economic damages.
Getting ahead of economic damages means battling on all fronts with the threats posed by the pandemic, however prioritizing and knowing which battles to fight are the need of the hour especially for struggling economies like Pakistan. Moving in this direction, let us try to answer the following questions: Which sector has taken the worst global impact in the lockdown days so far? Which sector would be the most fruitful to invest in? By my guess, it is the same sector that the current ruling party has publically declared its first priority since even before coming into power: Education sector.
UNESCO estimates that 1575 million learners worldwide have been affected by the lockdown, a figure that accounts for 91.3% of total enrolled learners worldwide. In Pakistan, the organization estimates the affectees at 46.8million. These learners, our future, amount to 22% of our entire population. So in my opinion, here lays, without a doubt, the most important problem our country faces in challenging its post pandemic situation and its invested future.
Education is, in every sense, one of the most fundamental factors of economic development. Education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances. It plays a crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.
The Centre for Global Development (CGD) recently recorded data for the official education system responses to COVID-19 around the world. This data when seen in light of World Bank’s classification method for countries income levels, help analyze the effects of the pandemic on student learning and the gaps that may arise in student performance levels. Countries with low income levels stand to lose a lot, as governments are ill equipped to provide remote learning opportunities. It is also important to note that it would lead to a gap between the education skill level of high income countries and low income countries, in effect widening the gap between poor and rich countries in the near future.
In Pakistan’s case, the government was swift to respond on these horrifying facts pertaining to the expected handicap of its young learners .Within two weeks of entering the lockdown and enforcing social distancing the Punjab Government’s Programme Monitoring and Implementation Unit (PMIU) under the leadership of School Education Department (SED) teamed with Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) to launch the “Taleem Ghar” initiative for remote learning of students between grade 1-8. Taleem Ghar utilizes communication channels to deliver educational content to parents and students in the safety of their homes.
The content is mapped according to curriculum and provides children an opportunity to understand different concepts that are part of their school work. The primary focus at the dissemination level is via cable TV channels, which according to the ASER report of 2019 puts availability of TV at 91% in urban and 77% in rural areas. However content is further available on android based applications with 32000 downloads so far, Youtube channel and its website that registered north of seven hundred thousand visits since its launch. The TV channel is currently running on 859 PEMRA registered cable TV networks across the province.
Internationally the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) intended to evaluate educational outcomes by measuring 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading with a view to enable countries to improve their education policies and outcomes by measuring problem solving and cognition. Keeping the international best practices in mind, Taleem Ghar concentrates on providing Science and Mathematics content to its users which focuses on interactive and engaging content finalized by SED.
The government’s meteoric response so far was imperative to elude the impending disaster potentially engulfing a large portion of the population. Its plans of partnering with private sector and combining forces with higher education providers is masterful yet essential. It puts the future of the country’s youth on a more safe and stable footing.