NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 12

A wise approach to overcome learning losses in schools

Ms. Sameea Irfan, a senior teacher at a private school system, seems quite satisfied with Dr. Murad Raas’ recent statement about keeping educational institutions open despite a new COVID-19 variant affecting large sections of society in the country.

Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas issued a statement on January 13, about the closure of schools amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, saying schools should be the “absolute last in line to close”. He took to Twitter to share his opinion on the matter after an important meeting of education ministers was postponed due to unexplained reasons. The ministers were set to meet on January 13 to decide about the closure of educational institutions across the country amid the worsening COVID-19 situation. The country had reported over 3,000 cases, the highest number of infections in a single day, in the last four months. “For all the inquirers whether schools are closing or not? In my opinion, every other activity, especially social activity, has to be stopped before schools. Schools should be the absolute last in line to close,” the education minister said. “The learning losses of our children in the past two years – unimaginable,” he added.

The minister’s assessment of learning losses in the country is uncontestable, of course. A report, titled “Measuring Learning Losses due to COVID-19” released a few months back, showed that enrolment for the age group of 6-16 years had dropped by 2% in 2021, compared to enrolment for the same age group in 2019.

The report was launched by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) virtually. The estimates were from a survey conducted across 16 rural districts of Pakistan, four in each province, using the 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% girls and 57% boys), 457 government schools and 198 private schools.


During school closures, parents stepped up to support their children’s learning. Support from household members is reported at 63% by children as a very positive response. About 32% children said that their schools provided them with learning materials during the closure periods, whilst 58% reported that their school management, teachers or head teachers never reached out to them.

The report said that 63% of the children got support from their families and over 22 million children did not go to school. The learning losses for children in grade 3 were significant. Class 3 children, who can read an Urdu story, dropped from 19% in 2019, to 15% in 2021, who can read English sentences from 21% in 2019, to 8% in 2021, and who can solve 2-digit division from 17% to 10%.

Ms. Sameea Irfan says the pandemic has not only caused learning losses but also disturbed classes schedule badly. In a special talk with Cutting Edge, the in charge of 10th class at a private school system on Wahdat Road of Lahore, says that ninth class last year continued for almost 18 months, from March 2020 to September 2021, before the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Lahore conducted their examination. “Do you think continuing a class for a longer period of time would have helped improved their learning?” asks the senior teacher. “Not at all,” she replies. “In fact, students had become fed up with their textbooks and I fear they would have performed poorly in their board exams, as their results are still awaited,” the educationist believes.

“The second major loss these students are going to suffer due to the pandemic will be the shortening of the time period for their 10th class. They will get just 6-7 months for this most important class this year as 10th class board exams will be held in May 2022,” the teacher explains. She says bringing class and exam schedules to normality is utmost necessary, and for this purpose schools must remain open to complete their courses.

The new COVID-19 variant had raised concern among parents of school-going children. There had been various reports in the media about the closure of educational institutions once again to lessen chances of children contracting the new variant. However, the Punjab education minister believes that school closure is not an actual solution to the pandemic. The real solution lies in vaccination of all school-going children, along with their parents and other family members.

The Punjab government has expedited the vaccination campaign in all educational institutions. “More than 5.6 million children have been vaccinated in schools across the province,” Murad Raas said last week, adding that 91% of children in public schools and 87% in private schools have been vaccinated so far. He said that the consistent “open school” policy and vaccinating all school-going children would help defeat the virus and overcome the losses suffered during the past two years.