Building forward better in Pakistan: four key things to consider when trying to mainstream lessons learnt about EdTech during school closures
Covid-19 has disrupted education for nearly 1.6 billion children around the world due to the closure of educational institutions and the shift to remote learning. In Pakistan alone, where more than 22 million school-age children were already out of school prior to the pandemic, school closures have impacted an additional 41 million students. These repercussions have compounded pre-existing educational challenges for Pakistan, which include exceptionally high levels of learning poverty, at 75%.
To ensure that learning continued at home while educational institutions were closed, Pakistan’s Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) worked with provincial departments of education to leverage technology in an effort to minimise learning loss. Millions of students and thousands of teachers across the country gained access to teaching and learning content using Teleschool, Radioschool, and Taleem Ghar, and MoFEPT collaborated with private education technology companies who volunteered their e-content free of cost for Pakistani children. While using technology to support learning was not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, the scale of demand was unprecedented. The pandemic amplified the need to use technology and pushed the boundaries of the scale and scope of EdTech usage.
Despite the unprecedented challenges, the pandemic has provided unique opportunities for education transformation, at least when it comes to distance learning and EdTech. The phrase ‘build back better’ has been used to describe educational reforms in the wake of Covid-19. Rather than returning ‘back’ to traditional ways of providing education, education stakeholders now need to focus on how to leverage the lessons learnt during the pandemic to build forwards — towards a new style of education service delivery that is more effective, efficient, and impactful. Nearly two years into the pandemic, the Government of Pakistan, much like education systems around the world, is faced with a question: How do we take advantage of what we have learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic to ‘build forward better’?
A key part of this evolution is to re-imagine how EdTech can be used to support education service delivery. Student, parent, and teacher relationships with EdTech have been transformed because of school closures. Governments, EdTech providers, and NGOs mobilised rapidly to respond to the crisis. As a result, more content, tools, and applications are available to teachers, students, parents, and school leaders. New types of partnerships between governments and EdTech providers have emerged.
In response to these opportunities, the Government of Pakistan is facilitating the development of an ecosystem to better leverage the use of technology in education, with EdTech Hub supporting them throughout this process. The federal government is putting in place national-level policy guidance to support the effective integration of EdTech into service delivery around the country. EdTech Hub is supporting the MoFEPT’s efforts to develop a distance learning framework (DLF), which will serve as the basis for a national distance learning strategy (DLS). The DLF and the DLS will be used to inform chapters on EdTech in the National Education Policy 2021.
Pakistan is not alone in trying to take advantage of these opportunities. The Libyan Ministry of Education, in collaboration with UNICEF and EdTech Hub, is developing its own distance learning roadmap. The goal behind the roadmap is to leverage existing distance learning modalities and newly developed digital material to support challenges beyond Covid-19. These include challenges such as school closures due to conflict, and providing learning avenues for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or out-of-school children. EdTech Hub is also working to support various other governments — for example, Bangladesh and Tanzania — to begin thinking about how best to formalise some of the lessons learnt during the pandemic response into more formal operational approaches.
While developing these post-pandemic distance learning strategies and roadmaps, we have identified four key considerations so far.
1. Testing and iteration should be part of any EdTech-enhanced programme
In the rush to respond to the crisis, many distance learning initiatives were launched. Education systems should not only look to learn from and build upon these initiatives, but also embed testing and iteration into future programmes and interventions as they continue to learn more about how EdTech can best support learning.
2. Don’t be afraid to reject what is not working
A lot of EdTech-enhanced interventions were rolled out during Covid-19. While some of these were more successful than initially anticipated, many of them have had limited impacts on learning. Education stakeholders should embrace what is working but also not be afraid to cancel and / or reform programmes that have been proven to have a limited impact.
3. Design EdTech interventions for equity
Distance education under Covid-19 was a necessity. Moving forward, it can instead be leveraged as a tool to bridge education gaps. To achieve this, strategies and initiatives need to be designed with equity at their heart, focusing on the different levels of access students have and identifying methods to bridge these access gaps.
4. Tech-enabled learning will extend well beyond Covid-19
While this crisis caught countries unaware, distance learning should not only be viewed as a potential response to national or international crises. Education systems face existing challenges that may be addressed via distance learning, such as supporting out-of-school children, SEND students, or girls’ education.
All these considerations reflect an overarching shift in mindset: proactively leveraging distance learning rather than reactively responding to global circumstances. While the Covid-19-related school closures are expected to negatively impact all school children around the globe, this crisis has also provided us with the opportunity to learn a lot more about how EdTech is best able to support learning in a wide variety of contexts. As education systems begin to stabilise, it is crucial that we rapidly identify how best to mainstream these lessons to ensure that we can provide higher-quality learning opportunities for those in school now and into the future. At EdTech Hub we continue to work closely with governments to help them do exactly this. If this is something you or your organisation are interested in learning more about or collaborating with us on, please contact the EdTech Hub team.