Covid-19 provided us an insight into the fault lines and contradictions in the system which have excluded people for decades. This insight was also a rare opportunity for people to include deprived segments of society in the education system yet it seems as if this opportunity has already been lost. With the arrival of autumn, the movement for digital justice which started in spring is taking its last breaths in the graveyard of movements that is 2020. Unlike other movements globally, it didn’t die because of the pandemic but was born in it: it was the lockdowns that highlighted the digital divide which leaves almost 64 percent of people behind. There are many unanswered questions for the status quo and the national security paradigm which became a big hurdle in the way of digital access to areas such as Balochistan. The pertinent question to ask today is: that how different would education in Pakistan look like if this movement was successful? If the government and security apparatus had agreed to provide internet to everyone so that everyone could attend online classes? If, for once, Pakistan had preferred education, over “national security”!
Let us start from the most immediate issues that triggered the movement for digital justice. If the government had provided internet to all, the students deprived of internet would have attended online classes without any hassle and mental stress. They would have been able to contribute in class instead of freezing their semesters because of unavailability of internet. The time wasted on protests for digital justice would have been spent on reading and learning. These are just immediate benefits had there been internet access for all during the pandemic. The long term benefits could revolutionise the whole education system in Pakistan.
Long distance learning could finally become a reality in Pakistan. Everyone is already aware of the fact that long distance learning could provide education to those who do not have universities in their areas. Pakistan has been a huge failure in providing universities to the people of peripheries. These people are doubly excluded due to the burgeoning fees and travel expenses that a lot of them cannot afford. Access to internet could be their ticket to the inexpensive education that they could take at homes. Imagine how many people could be included in the education system through internet access!
Informal education plays a huge role in the learning process, especially critical thought. Things which are not taught in formal education are learnt through YouTube. Moreover, the access to journals and magazines plays a huge role in the understanding of society and science. If 64% had the internet facility, at least 20 percent from them would have utilised these sources of learning. It could have an unimaginable impact on the democracy, politics and society.
Unfortunately, we lost this opportunity. We could not bring in the excluded segments into the education system and today they are alienated even more. The inability to have internet access has deprived them of their fundamental right to education. Many have been forced to freeze their semesters while others could not pass as they were not able to attend classes due to internet unavailability.
Digital justice is an important feature of our times. Even if it seems as if the movement for digital access has come to a halt, we must see it as a temporary setback. We must continue the struggle for internet for all.