The lockdown, imposed by the government in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, has brought few opportunities for Abdul Subhan. He was rendered jobless and forced to stay at home, which was the biggest problem, and an issue of survival for him and his family. However, opportunities which came as a “windfall” for his family need a detailed account.
Abdul Subhan lives in a two-room rented house in Muhammadi Colony, a slum in the Sabzazar area of Lahore, along with his wife and five children. Being a salesman at a readymade garments shop for over a decade with a meagre monthly income, it had always been hard for him to fulfil financial needs of his family. Though himself an illiterate, yet he is fully convinced of the importance of an education for his children in the present-day age. But in his Rs18,000 to Rs20,000 per month earning, he had never been able to provide his four daughters and a son with an enabling environment for a better education and good grades in their exams. His children are studying at government schools, where private tuition is considered almost a must, but he has never been able to provide them with it.
His eldest daughter, Mahwish Subhan, passed her matriculation examination from the Lahore board two years back. But she failed to secure enough marks, for obvious reasons, to get an admission to a government college. Most part of the ninth and tenth classes, her school had no English and biology subjects teachers, and Abdul Subhan was unable to help her go to a private academy for tuition. The result was obvious, she did pass her matriculation examination but with marks that she failed to get admission to a government college, though she had submitted application forms to three colleges. After being scolded by her mother and father, Mahwish promised she would continue her education as a private candidate. However, she herself and her parents knew it well that it would be almost impossible for her to continue her education. So, she started helping her mother in her cloth-stitching work at home. Shumaila Subhan, her mother, is famous in Muhammadi Colony as “Shammo Darzan (seamstress)” and she contributes Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 every month to her husband’s income.
Mahwish had bought first-year books to continue her studies as a private student, but she lost her interest after some months when she failed to continue with her passion for learning her lessons on her own. Many a time, she rued her family’s financial situation, especially when she saw her younger sibling, Tahira, now in class 10, and two sisters and the youngest brother, facing the same problem of not doing well in their classes and exams. All siblings do attempt to help each other in their homework and studies, but mostly they end up in failure to do so.
However, April 13, 2020, brought good news for Mahwish, Tahira and their other siblings when their father saw Prime Minister Imran Khan on the television announcing the launch of a special channel for students, and called them all to witness the ceremony proceedings. The Prime Minister said the Pakistan Television (PTV) TeleSchool channel was aimed at providing education to children on their doorsteps during the lockdown. Terming it a great concept, particularly in remote areas of the country where there is no infrastructure for primary education, he promised that the initiative would continue even after the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood told the ceremony that PTV TeleSchool, an initiative of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, would be available on satellite, terrestrial and cable. It would broadcast programmes from 8am to 5pm every day and deliver content from grades 1 to 12. The federal minister told the ceremony that the morning session with English, Maths, Urdu and General Science lessons was dedicated to junior students and the next session with all subjects to seniors. Mahwish was particularly happy with the new arrangement, as she had found a new hope of restarting her education, while sitting at home. She believes her younger siblings would also be able to understand and learn their lessons now in a better way and acquire even college and university education after passing their matriculation in good grades.
Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood said that the initiative would prove to be a revolution in the present situation as the whole world was heading towards distance learning. He said that there had always been complaints of substandard education in government schools in remote areas of the country. He hoped the issue would be resolved to a great extent with the launch of the TeleSchool channel when expert and highly-qualified teachers deliver their lectures in an effective manner. When he was told about the happiness of Mahwish Subhan over the launch of the channel, the minister promised that the arrangement would continue even after the pandemic and hoped that the initiative would help out a large number of children, like Mahwish, who could not get admission to college or those who had been dropped out of school.
The minister regretted that Pakistan had lagged behind in distance education during the past decades, though it was a requirement of the age. He said that through the new system on television and in the presence of a large number of mobile phones in almost all houses, adult education would also be promoted. He suggested that people, like Abdul Subhan, who are convinced of the importance of literacy and education, should also start learning by sparing some time daily to attend TeleSchool classes.
The minister also regretted the fact that around 20 million children in the country are still out of school and during the past 70 years, Pakistan’s literacy reached only around 60 per cent, in which people had also been listed as literate who could just write their name.
The federal minister believes it’s a lot easier to help parents buy a television set to educate their children instead of constructing buildings for schools and hiring teachers and staff. He said neighbouring India, with almost the same social setup and financial constraints, had experimented with the initiative to increase the literacy rate and got some success in it. Pakistan can do the same. Learning through the classroom environment has its advantages, but once we manage to effectively educate children through distance learning programmes, the same can be used to expand our outreach and educate children whom we have not yet reached out, added the minister.
Saqib Manzoor, an engineer and a CSP officer, said that e-learning or distance learning was not a new concept. It has already been existent for years the world over. The Virtual University, set up in 2002 by the Pakistani government, is using the internet to disburse education among students online and President Dr. Arif Alvi was seen lauding its efforts and progress only a few weeks ago.
However, as the world shifts to a more remote way of working and more so in the Coid-19 pandemic times, if evaluated seriously, it is certainly a vastly unexplored model in Pakistan. An efficient and cost-effective measure, it has far-reaching potential and growth for learning communities; both educators and students, believes Saqib Manzoor.
Saadia Adnan, director Academics at Federal Directorate of Education, Islamabad, has some further details about the new initiative. The Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) had established an Emergency Learning Centre (ELC), where subject specialists reviewed the curriculum and made necessary changes before it was finalised, she tells Cutting Edge by telephone. She said that the curriculum was developed with the assistance of Pakistani edtech companies. The FDE consulted many institutions to prepare the curriculum, which is being broadcast on the TeleSchool channel. She said initially the arrangement was made for three months and almost 11 hours of airtime was borrowed from the PTV. However, preparations are underway to continue with the arrangement on a permanent basis. She said that the curricula prepared for TeleSchool covered pre-school, and all the way to the intermediate level. She also believes the initiative would prove to be a milestone in enhancing literacy in the country.