Referring to the current global COVID-19 Pandemic that has caused the world to stop is a situation which calls for urgent attention. Where, Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response frameworks have been developed and followed by countries globally; the DRR strategies pose a question mark on the preparedness of countries, including Pakistan where existing governance structures and approaches of the state have proved to be insufficient to manage the epidemic.
The pandemic is a unique ongoing disaster and hence requires a different perspective to consider DRR and preparedness strategies. In developing countries, there seems relatively less focus on risk reduction interventions This lack of concern is largely attributed to the seemingly unfavorable cost-benefit ratios between prevention and preparedness measures as compared with those of response and relief efforts This leaves a serious gap in skills and capacity at governance framework and linked departments including health and education in Pakistan resulting in accountability challenges to respond and operationalise inclusive disaster risk management and reduction efforts.
With a population of 210 million that has a high poverty rate with about one-quarter of the population earning less than $2 dollars per day , Pakistan is yet again hit hard by another catastrophe of COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 represents the latest in an unfortunately growing list of disasters faced by Pakistan that has increased socio-economic insecurity exponentially, especially amongst the 60% of the population comprising youth
In recent days, due to Covid-19, Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan released press statements about the delay of Cambridge and board exams along with a delay in the overall academic calendar for universities by two months, as they are likely to remain close until further notice. This accounts for a huge loss to not only academic calendar in universities throughout Pakistan, but also the long-term delay of graduates entering the workforce in 2025, which ultimately will result in a downward spiral in economy unless some precautionary measures taken. Fortunately, Prime Minister favored HEC’s decision to conduct online classes to cover the syllabus as students in the school have to prepare for their exams.
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 47% of females aged 15 and older are literate in Pakistan as of 2017 census, this number is likely to decrease as the spending on education continues to decline, as proved by 2019-2020 fiscal year budget. The 2019-2020 Fiscal year budget announced a cut in education budget up to 20.5% compared to the previous year which amounted to only 2.4% of the GDP, while Pakistan Vision 2025, published by the Planning Commission of Pakistan aims to target education by at least 4% of the total yearly budget.
The spending on education is likely to decrease given the current market scenario due to Covid-19. It also means that Pakistan will fall short of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 titled “Quality Education” which focuses on improving literacy rates amongst people of all genders. UNESCO states
that about less than half of the female population in this country getting “literate” is likely to decrease with time.
Distance education has shown some positive trends in Pakistan recently. According to Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) Pakistan, a total of 1,36,7210 students were enrolled in distance learning in 2017-2018 academic years, out of which 49% were female students.
 Kreft, S. and Eckstein, D. (2013), “Global Climate Risk Index 2014”, Germanwatch e.V., Bonn.
 Mustafa, D. (2003), “Reinforcing vulnerability? Disaster relief, recovery, and response to the 2001 flood in Rawalpindi, Pakistan”, Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards , Vol. 5 Nos 3-4, pp. 71-82
Proposed Distance Learning Strategy for Semi-Urban Pakistan
While COVID-19 has changed the entire lifestyle perspective, our entire cultural nomenclature is about to take a 180 degree turn when people will realize that post lock down will still assert on maintaining social distancing and remaining careful in public spaces.
It has been observed that while digital education is successful in bridging the current gap when children are unable to go to school, they are being given online classes at home by respective schools using different digital mediums. However, this is a solution that caters to a certain segment of the society.
Given the financial, digital and cultural restraints of Semi -Urban Pakistan, implementing distance learning in such areas has proved to be challenging. Families in this strata lack the funds to gain access to smart phones and laptops therefore excluding the use of such digital tools for the purpose of imparting distance learning. They also lack digital knowledge regarding the use of digital tools and even the internet.
In addition, there are starkly limited open spaces and inadequate opportunities for Pakistan’s youth to engage. This is especially true for young women. The lockdown has increased economic vulnerability and rise on domestic violence and child abuse. This is commonly observed and stated by the doctors that parents do not know how to engage with their children and the longer the isolation is getting; it is leading to increased mental health issues. These mental health disorders are observed in both adults and children who have to cope with their own challenges as well as those of their parents and other adults living in the house.
Therefore, Talking Sense proposes to model semi-urban distance learning has selected a semi urban area in Islamabad and has engaged with young women from the same community who are out of workforce but are keen to work from home. Following the guidelines of prevention during Covid-19 and social and physical distancing; home tuition are aimed to be introduced at the homes of these ‘new women workforce’. The teachers will be trained on giving home lessons to 5 children at a time in two different shifts so that they teach 10 children.
These children will attend home school that will not only give them the chance to gain education that otherwise they cannot because of Covid-19 and the women teachers to earn, supporting them financially.
The teachers will be trained on giving tuition digitally and each child will be provided with internet supported Tablet that the child can use at home also.
The much-needed digital transformation could later be taken to other areas and may mean more “accessibility”, reaching out to rural areas of Pakistan, education to people prone to floods, drought and malnutrition as we see more climate change catastrophes in this as well as upcoming years and employing sign language teachers for students with disabilities. As most people below the poverty line can neither afford nor will allow their children, especially girls due to preconceived cultural norms to go to schools, going digital can help us reach higher up the ladder.