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Digital divide in Pakistan: Webinar by Science Fuse highlights disparity & challenges to country’s shift to online education

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By: Sultan Malik

Changes taken place in several aspects of life are there to be observed as the world tries to rebuild itself in the aftermath of the SARS-COVID-19 pandemic.

Be it daily interactions, sports, traveling, conducting of business, or more, the coronavirus has altered, or greatly affected, the world around us and almost everything it entails.

Education is also a key area that has been influenced by the spread of the virus around the globe.

Restrictions to in person meetings meant that educational institutions everywhere had to consider alternates to ensure pedagogical continuity – the shift to online platforms was, in this regard, deemed as the most viable option.

Although the move was believed to have paid off to a great extent in the developed part of the world, for countries like Pakistan—where the digital divide is immense—this shift, unfortunately, brought with it several challenges that the education system, and the several million who are associated with it one way or the other, had absolutely not anticipated.

In order to discuss some of the key issues that the country faced with regards to its shift to online education, the social enterprise Science Fuse on August 10th organized a webinar titled ‘Digital Divide in Pakistan’.

Moderated by Orenda and Taleemabad Co-founder Haroon Yasin, the webinar focused on the impact of the switch from traditional means of educating to the online ones on the country’s student-body, specifically with regards to the female users of internet in Pakistan.

A number of noteworthy panelists were part of the discussion as several shortcomings based on the shift to digital education were identified during the webinar along with the highlighting of many viable solutions to counter the challenges faced.

During the discussion, Mechanism for Rational Change (MERC) Director Sumera Mehboob pointed out about difficulties faced with regards to accessing parents and students in Baluchistan who did not possess smart gadgets and also mentioned the stigmas associated with the use of digital technology devices by the young females in a household.

Massive disparity in terms of internet accessibility in different parts of the country was another major setback the education system faced in its hopes of moving to the online sphere.

Innovate Educate Inspire (IEI) Founder Marvi Soomro expressed her disappointment in this regard and particularly mentioned Gilgit-Baltistan among areas that suffered the most due to unavailability of stable internet in the region.

Likewise, Senior Advisor to The Citizens Foundation Nadia Naviwala mentioned that the teachers’ lack of access to online education platforms as well as their lack of skills that cater to the needs of online teaching are massive hindrances in the education system’s quest to go digital. Moreover, Roohullah Gulzari, Manager Ilm Exchange, CERP, believed that the curriculum being taught by educational institutions across the country is not well aligned with the different online platforms it is used for the purpose of being dispersed, and also mentioned that changes were needed to be introduced in the methods of educating considering the shift to the digital.

With regards to offering solutions to the conundrum of the leap to the digital, Education Advisor at the Federal Ministry of Education and Professional Training Pakistan Umbreen Arif stated during the webinar that the government was focusing in enhancing and improving the tele-school programs it had launched in the aftermath of the closure of schools nationwide and that it had technical support from Ed-tech companies whereas The World Bank had also provided funding worth USD 2 million in this regard.

Pakistan Editor, Arab News Mehreen Zahra-Malik, along with Google Community Manager for South Asia Saad Hamid also emphasized on the need of backing Ed-tech companies to support the government and other educational institutions to ensure that the learning of students across Pakistan would not be hampered whilst the pandemic ensues.

Through its webinar series, Science Fuse aims to bring to light the issues surrounding girls’ education across the country along with attempting to focus on pragmatic and feasible solutions to these problems.

In the upcoming webinars, more emphasis shall be placed upon discussing the problems faced by female students across Pakistan, as experts and stakeholders from diverse sectors will share important insights regarding socio-cultural and economical dynamics affecting the education of girls in the country along with mentioning the efforts done (or to be done) in terms of effectively addressing these concerns.

The next webinar is due to take place on Monday, August 31st and will be streamed live on the official Facebook page of Science Fuse.

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