Children go to school wearing uniforms, holding tiffin and water bottles, carrying heavy bags on their shoulders. In the past year and a half, this scene has become as rare as ever.
In the last few months, the government has fully reopened educational institutions in Pakistan following the decline in the Corona pandemic. After taking online classes for more than a year, the children are now going to school regularly, but Islamabad’s Rafaqat is not amongst them.
Rafaqat, a slum dweller in the H-9 area of the federal capital, is one of the hundreds of students who were forced to drop out of school in the days of the Corona pandemic to find work to keep the stove burning.
Rafaqat was a seventh-grader at a nearby government school. When the Corona epidemic broke out last year, the school closed, and teaching was shifted online, which was why they dropped out of school.
He said that the teachers said that now the classes would be online, but they did not have a smartphone, laptop, internet, and resources to buy them, so they could not continue their education.
Where Rafaqat lives, there was no electricity, water, or gas. Their home is a semi-detached house with two rooms, and the solar panels on the roof provide electricity to keep two fans and light bulbs burning.
His father and mother used to do cleaning work in private offices, but he lost his job in the Corona epidemic, after which his father started Chaat barrow.
Rafaqat dropped out of school to start a job to help with household expenses, but his passion for education did not end there.
He wants to be a pastor, for which he must have at least a matriculation education. That’s why he joined an academy for private education along with his job so that he could continue his studies.
Disruption in education
According to a UNICEF report, between March 2020 and September 2021, 131 million children in 11 countries worldwide missed out on three-quarters of their schooling.
The Corona epidemic has had a devastating effect on Pakistan’s economy but has further damaged the weak education sector.
According to a recent study by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), 5.53 million children between the ages of five and 16 have been affected by the closure of schools during the Corona epidemic, according to a World Bank study of October 2020.
According to a 2020 study, more than one million children in Pakistan alone are at risk of dropping out of school.
Dr Junaid Ahmed, a senior researcher at PIED involved in the study, said that in 2018, more than 20 million children were out of school in Pakistan, which is 44% of the school-age children in the country. That’s a big part of it, and the closure of schools and job losses due to the Corona epidemic will only add to it.
He said that after the transfer of education online, lack of access to facilities like phones, laptops, and the internet had affected many families whose children used to go to government schools or small schools with low fees.
Not only are children dropping out of school, but the quality of education is also likely to decline significantly.
According to Dr Junaid, in Pakistan, a child is traditionally expected to complete 9.4 years of education by the age of 18, but students’ ability is equivalent to only 5.1 years of education.
By the age of 18, a child is expected to complete 9.4 years of education, but students’ ability is equivalent to only 5.1 years of education. For example, he is a student of 10th class, but his ability is similar to that of a student of five years of education, which is equivalent to primary education.
Dr Junaid said: “This learning gap is about 4.3 years. This learning gap is even greater in girls. It shows the poor quality of our country’s education system.”
He said the move to online education is likely to widen the gap even further. According to their research, with three more months, five months, and seven months of school closure, the learning gap is expected to be 4.8, 4.4, and 4.2 years, meaning that the children’s academic ability will be so low.
He added that the loss of adult jobs during the epidemic has put pressure on children to earn a living and that many children have joined the labour market, and once a child starts earning, he will not return to school.
How to improve this situation? In response to this question, he said that the government needs to take long-term measures. While it can bring drop-out children back to school through scholarships for a limited period of time, more investment is required in public schools to improve the quality of education.