The huge divide in our education system is known to everyone in Pakistan, so this edition of The Students’ Herald aims to highlight another serious aspect of this divide. This aspect became magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns: the immense digital divide and its consequences for students.
Of 70 million, 22.8 million children are out of schools in Pakistan. Among them, according to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, only 1 million school age children have access to internet or digital devices. Only elite schools engaging the children of the privileged classes have been able to deliver online classes, as they had access to the necessary infrastructure. Most private and public sector universities announced online classes, without any consultation with their students or fully understanding the kind of issues they would have with these classes. Pakistan has a young population but only four percent have access to higher education. But even from this small percentage, a large number of students no longer have access purely because they come from rural areas.
There are many questions surrounding online education in Pakistan; students are being charged tuition more fee for this new system; they have concerns about the quality of lectures; but the most painful thing, especially for students in peripheries and rural areas of Pakistan, have been the long journeys to cities amid the pandemic just to attend these classes. Many students who could not attend these online classes dropped out.
In the backdrop of this crisis exists an undemocratic education system whose policies are determined by those belonging from the privileged classes residing in power centres. It seems that they are totally unaware of the lives and hardships of the vast majority of the people in this country. Even when a campaign was launched by students raising concerns over online education, nothing practical was done for their plight. After so many months, the priorities remain the same: it is the business as usual.
Internet has become a basic necessity of our times and in many ways can be seen as the yardstick between the advanced and poor societies. We demand that an extensive educational infrastructure be built across the country as this is the need of our times.