EducationNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 28

Digital unpreparedness

Pakistan ranks as the least digitally prepared among the developing member countries (DMCs) of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The report highlights several key areas in which Pakistan needs improvement, including low internet connectivity, as only 34.1 per cent of households are connected, slow fixed broadband speeds, high fixed-line broadband costs, and limited access to rural electricity.

In contrast, Uzbekistan emerges as the most prepared nation for digital education, with Indonesia following closely behind. On the other end of the spectrum, Pakistan ranks as the least prepared, with Fiji as the second least prepared country. The five pillars of readiness encompass multiple aspects of digital education, with ‘Providers’ being the least performing pillar. Six of the 10 developing member countries, namely Cambodia, Bangladesh, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Fiji, fall into the ‘initial’ category of readiness, while the other four, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan, are in the ‘emerging’ category of readiness.

A significant gap of approximately 45 points exists between the normalised score of the model country and the highest-scoring nation. When it comes to mobile broadband costs relative to Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, the 10 developing member countries fare reasonably well. However, there is considerable disparity in fixed broadband costs, with Cambodia, Indonesia, and Pakistan being the least affordable, and Bangladesh, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan ranking as the most affordable options.

Urban electricity access is a bright spot, with nearly all urban households having access to electricity in most countries. However, rural electricity access varies, with Pakistan falling behind at 41.3 per cent of rural households lacking electricity.

In terms of TV coverage, most countries perform fairly well, with an average of 81.7 per cent of households having access to television. The prevalence of cable TV subscriptions per 1,000 individuals varies from low to moderate among the countries studied. Pakistan leads the pack in cable TV subscriptions among countries with available data.

While Pakistan’s household TV coverage rate is relatively low at 62.8 per cent, it excels in cable TV subscriptions, boasting over 482 subscriptions per 1,000 individuals. Among its digital education initiatives, the Government of Pakistan has developed ‘Open Courseware’, an online repository of course materials for university students.

Pakistan’s National Education Policy for 2017-2025, published by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, emphasises providing access to information and communication technology (ICT) in schools, using ICT to enhance teaching quality and student learning, and fostering complementary approaches to ICT in education. While it aims to build on existing ICT programmes, the policy does not elaborate on the extent of device access.

A key focus of the policy is the revision of the curriculum and teacher training systems, both pre-service and in-service, to make them learner-centred and IT-based. However, the policy does not mention a digitized curriculum.

According to survey findings, there is a noticeable lack of teacher training in ICT skills, especially for delivering online education. An expert interviewed highlighted that the few existing training programmes primarily concentrate on teaching teachers how to use IT tools, with less emphasis on content creation and delivery.

While many teachers indicated that they create educational content themselves, the format of this content tends to be rather basic, consisting mostly of documents and presentations. Regarding Internet quality, teachers in schools can perform most online functions, including browsing videos, streaming audio and video content, and downloading documents. However, the Internet’s capacity falls short when it comes to handling heavier content like audio clips and videos. In contrast, higher education and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) teachers reported relatively better Internet quality for all functions.

When evaluating the institutional support available to teachers for online education, significant room for improvement is evident in schools. Most schools rely on paper-based systems for data collection and analysis, and a majority of school teachers reported not receiving IT support for troubleshooting hardware and software issues. Conversely, teachers in higher education and TVET institutions seem to have more readily available support.

In terms of students’ digital skills, the majority of students at various educational levels in Pakistan demonstrate proficiency in a range of digital competencies, from basic skills like using communication tools, organising files, and searching for information online, to more advanced skills such as utilising productivity applications and collaborative tools. Most students across all levels are self-taught in using the tools necessary for digital learning, with higher education teachers confirming this as the prevailing trend. However, access to devices at home is suboptimal, as less than half of primary and secondary school, higher education, and TVET students have access to a computer or laptop. In contrast, smartphone access is prevalent.

Surprisingly, less than 30 per cent of teachers across primary and secondary schools, higher education, and TVET institutions in Pakistan employ private EdTech platforms for conducting classes. Similarly, the use of these platforms for communication and sharing with students is minimal, with no reported usage among primary and secondary school teachers. Among all 10 developing member countries, Pakistan has one of the lowest proportions of ICT graduates as a percentage of the total pool of tertiary education graduates, standing at 1.1 per cent.

Pakistan holds a partner status with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). According to the GPE report on the utilisation of grants by the Sindh and Balochistan regions from October 2020, the Sindh province employed technology tools, funded by a $66 million GPE grant, to deploy teachers to areas where their presence was most needed. In Balochistan, apps were used to monitor teacher attendance, recording their presence within a specific geographical radius of the school, even in offline areas, with data being uploaded once network connectivity was available. The report also underscores that GPE grant funds are facilitating an ambitious distance learning programme’s implementation across Pakistan.