- The covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll of education too
COVID 19 is an unprecedented pandemic in human history and the number of infected cases is soaring higher than the average of preceding days in Pakistan. This pandemic is a huge challenge and a test of the mettle of political and professional leadership. The scale and gravity of the situation is alarming and warrants immediate measures at all levels with a sense of national pride in service delivery by all and for all.
The pandemic has further exposed our education and health systems since patina and polemics disappeared with the first push to the systems, a few months back. The situation did not emerge suddenly and the successive governments at the helm of affairs in Pakistan are responsible for inaction and apathy. The health system all over the country, during the initial few weeks of the pandemic, demonstrated gaps in the capacity and the prevalent institutional arrangements and pointed straight towards persistent lack of interest in human development by the political economy. The lack of space and capacity in public sector hospitals forced patients to approach private sector facilities at exorbitantly high costs. The pandemic is the test of the will and potential of the political leadership but at the same time, it is an ideal opportunity to build resilient systems and expand them exponentially to meet the incessant demand in the country.
The entry tests for admissions in universities are long-awaited. It is not difficult to conduct admission tests like MDCAT and ECAT in small batches by the respective universities and colleges, by observing the standing operating procedures and maintaining social distance, without any further wastage of time. Pakistan Army has once again taken a lead and has started the process for the recruitment of officers using education technology in their selection centres by strictly observing the standing operating procedures prescribed by the health authorities in Pakistan
The available workforce in the public health system worked day and night to cope with the situation with limited resources. Many doctors and paramedical staff embraced martyrdom in the service of the nation during the pandemic. They are the pride of the nation and the crown of the creatures and rightly deserve appreciation and conferral of the highest national awards and recognition at the highest political and professional levels. The salutation gestures by the officers and all ranks helped to raise the morale of the health professionals since they deserve the accolade and salute. The doctors and paramedics have made the nation proud and vehemently announced with a stoic resolve that they will continue serving the nation despite all odds and limitations. They are still struggling with the same zeal, spirit, determination and dedication in an emergency.
As a matter of fact, health systems, both in public and private sectors, were slow to provide extra workforce, requisite financial resources and personal protection equipment to doctors and paramedics well in time. Covid-19 reached the country with a lag period of more than one month as compared to China and many other countries in Europe and the rest of the world. The Federal Ministry of National Health Services and lead epidemiologists in the country were successful in disseminating symmetrical information through print and electronic media about the dynamics of the pandemic and its impact and implications on the health of the people in near future and planned expansion in health paraphernalia, but implementation is a limitation so far.
The manifold increase in the number of patients in the public sector hospitals has put an extraordinary burden on the existing facilities and pressure on health professionals and management. The propriety demands that federal and provincial governments should build field hospitals in rural areas and improvise the available buildings into hospitals on a war-footing basis in urban settlements. The campaign to engage more doctors and paramedics must be started simultaneously and immediately since the demand for health facilities in the near future will escalate and has the potential to create acrimony and disappointment among the people if the top priority is not accorded right now. The health systems are already late in keeping the requisite pace with the emerging needs and further delay in expansion in health infrastructure and human resources may cost the people very heavily.
Educational institutions have been closed down and students are waiting for the opening for the last four months or so. While the developed world has taken advantage of technology and ensured the dissemination of knowledge through education technologies and took the educational institutions to the homes of the students, some of the developing countries, including Pakistan, are still at the thought process stage.
The private sector in education and some of the lead institutions in the public sector have taken a lead and introduced innovative approaches by online coaching of the students, but secure coverage for all the students remains a challenge.
The Government of Pakistan took an apt and prompt decision to promote students based on marks scored by them in previous classes in the respective Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education two months back. The sole purpose behind this important decision was to save the time of the students and allow them to progress further and seek admissions in universities and colleges. The students who have passed the intermediate examination are still waiting for admission in medical, engineering and general universities. There should be a strong realization on the part of policymakers and political leadership that delay in admissions and start of new classes is causing a colossal loss in terms of creating a lag in building the human didactic resource base of the Pakistani students, as compared to the other nations employing education technologies to teach and assess their students.
Our youth, the future of the nation, is already at the brink and heading towards chaos and uncertainty due to unclear policy guidelines regarding admissions and start of classes in professional colleges and universities. It has been established by now that remote teaching, learning and secure assessment, is possible through education technologies ,and we can save the precious time of the students and engage them in learning through virtual learning platforms in all disciplines of knowledge. It is high time that government and private educational institutions and entrepreneurs must make an immediate investment in the human development sector, enabling the mentors and mentees to unlock their potential and ensure that affordable quality education is possible in emergencies. The Government of Pakistan should mobilize the investments to help education managers and entrepreneurs to build stronger and resilient systems in the country. The proposed investments will help the education and health systems to continue and serve undeterred during the current covid-19 crisis and in case of emergencies in future as well.
There is an old but impressive adage that, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ but this has been further improved by Dr Mahathir Muhammad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, by saying that, ‘where there is a will, there is a way but if there is a way, will be found.’ The Government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, needs to take immediate measures to find will and way both and that too urgently.
National Disaster Management Authority and similar authorities at the provincial level are doing firefighting against the pandemic, but the soaring trends in pandemic require a much higher level of undivided attention. Ideally, the dedicated implementation units, led by the Prime Minister and respective Chief Ministers, should work in unison to develop new facilities for health and monitor the state of education in emergency. There is a dire need for action and quick and accurate decision making is warranted, bypassing bureaucratic rigmaroles and conundrums in an emergency. The Global Education Monitoring Report, 2020 has been published recently and the state of education in Pakistan is not enviable when compared with other countries at the same level of development in the region and around the globe.
The entry tests for admissions in universities are long-awaited. It is not difficult to conduct admission tests like MDCAT and ECAT in small batches by the respective universities and colleges, by observing the standing operating procedures and maintaining social distance, without any further wastage of time. Pakistan Army has once again taken a lead and has started the process for the recruitment of officers using education technology in their selection centres by strictly observing the standing operating procedures prescribed by the health authorities in Pakistan.
(Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik is a UNESCO Confucius Laureate and former Federal Secretary Health and Education. He can be reached at [email protected])