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Overcoming Challenges: The Urgent Need for Digital Reforms in Pakistan’s Education System

OpinionOvercoming Challenges: The Urgent Need for Digital Reforms in Pakistan's Education System
By: Asfand Ozaan

Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the lives of individuals and serves as the foundation of any society. It equips individuals with the necessary tools to achieve their goals and extends beyond academic record-keeping to encompass personal development. Education is a fundamental right for everyone, as enshrined in various charters and declarations. However, in societies such as ours, where the education system places a greater emphasis on class-based distinctions, significant long-term reforms are required.

Pakistan’s education system comprises both public and private sector institutions at various levels, but it lags behind other regional countries in terms of digital reforms. According to UNICEF, the country has the second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world, with an estimated 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 percent of the population overall. Gender-based disparities in education are also a pressing issue, as Pakistan has one of the lowest rates of gender representation in educational and professional institutions, as reported in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2022.

As Pakistan’s stakeholders and experts grapple with the enormous task of transforming educational institutions into a digitized learning system, they are faced with numerous challenges.

Though hybrid learning is a common practice among students and tutors across the globe, Pakistan also needs proper facilitation. To begin with, Pakistan has a variety of schools and higher institutes. Somewhere we have one of the most modern education systems while in other areas students still struggle to find stable internet accessibility to learn digitally. This digital divide should be taken into consideration as soon as possible. While working as an educationist at the Khyber Pakhtun Khwa Directorate of Education, I noticed that there is a lack of basic internet access and computer usage facilities in the majority of primary schools and even high schools. Then there comes some schools in nomadic areas where the teachers are also not formally aware of how to help and guide students as per digitalized aspects of today’s education system, and indeed it should be so because society and skilled industry also demand this from us. Though government expenditure on education is very low (only 2.8 % of the country’s GDP), which is significantly lower than the recommended ratio by the United Nations, four percent. To add here, the Ministry of Education (federal and provincial as well) invests a large sum in teachers’ professional development. But the results are bleak. Why so? Because none of the teachers, or a few among them, take it seriously. Now one can easily assume that even when the funds are being supplied, it will still be inevitable for stakeholders and trustees to let alone invest in technology.

Lack of understanding and reluctance to change is a key impediments to digitizing Pakistan’s education system. Many individuals in the country are unaware of digitalization’s advantages, which has led to opposition. Some people believe that conventional instruction methods are more effective than modern approaches, finding it difficult to bring innovation into schooling. This resistance to change has also made it difficult to implement digital solutions that could improve school system efficiency and efficacy. Further shedding light on this lack of trained employees is also a hurdle. The country suffers from a teacher shortage, which has led to low educational quality. The student-teacher ratio in Pakistan, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, is 36:1, greater than the recommended ratio of 30:1. Since there are no personnel to train students and teachers on how to use technology, it has been challenging to introduce technology into the education system. Academic assessments show literacy and numeracy disparities in Pakistan’s government schools. Comprehensive examinations of kids in accepted government schools and NGO schools show a significant achievement gap: students in grade 6 frequently fail Pakistan national curriculum-based grade 3 mathematics tests. In other words, a ten-year-old child has a four-year numeracy performance difference. Few students from such schools will ever matriculate, let alone attend respectable universities or hold professional positions.

Digitization and technological use are among the factors that can improve our education system.

Urgent challenges require instant solutions. Rewinding back to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the first time that the Higher Education Commission of the country decided to launch an e-learning system in the country Apart from that the then government also introduced TeleSchool on national television. However, these steps were ineffective to a certain extent. Reason? Because how a student sitting in FATA or Baluchistan can learn from such initiatives, where load shedding occurs for more than 6 hours a day? Moreover, as per 2016–17 educational statistics, almost 86 percent of Pakistan’s elementary schools are located in rural areas with poor internet. This makes it difficult for students to use any online learning and instruction tool. With Pakistan falling into the lowest quintile, the most recent “Inclusive Internet Index” likewise offers a bleak image of the country, albeit of the fact that Pakistan boasts of providing internet connectivity to a wide range of users. After reviewing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority data on internet usage and accessibility in the country, the point might be considered further. According to the report, only 22 percent of the countryside has internet access, compared to 61% of metropolitan areas. Due to the digital gap, many rural communities lack access to the internet and other resources needed for digitization, making it challenging to integrate technology into the educational system.

Technology must be used to improve education quality on a large scale. Technology provides teachers and students with access to educational content and evaluation tools previously unavailable. Adoption of technological tools in education can improve teacher skills and capabilities. It can also deliver students with unparalleled high-quality instruction tailored to their specific needs, and allow for independent and unbiased assessment of student learning. While technology will never replace teachers, teachers who use it will eventually replace those who do not. In order to provide digital and technological learning opportunities, coordination is essential among all stakeholders. In Pakistan, there are many different parties participating in the education system, including the federal and provincial governments, the commercial sector, and civil society. According to a World Bank report from 2007, education quality is a driver of economic growth and fairness. Despite this, education reform initiatives in Pakistan mostly focus on improving classroom conditions. Instead, they concentrate on upgrading school infrastructure and school management. This is partly because these are simpler and more visible than enhancing teaching and learning quality within classes. Different parties’ inability to coordinate has made it challenging to implement an extensive digitization plan.

Digitization has altered several areas of the economy and considerably increased service efficiency and efficacy. Pakistan’s education system is still not digitized, posing an enormous barrier to progress. Digitizing Pakistan’s education system is a massive undertaking that will take tremendous work, and the country faces various challenges. Teachers are scarce in Pakistan, facilities are poor, enrolment rates are low, dropout rates are high, and budget issues plague the system. The government’s attempts to enhance access to education, particularly in rural regions, and its cash distribution program, on the other hand, have shown excellent outcomes. To address these problems and enhance education standards in the country, additional investment in education infrastructure and research and development is required. In addition, more aggressive attempts to close the gender gap in education.


The writer works at the KP Directorate of Education. He can be reached at [email protected]

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