In the 2 years when our country was marred by COVID, as was the rest of the world, the juxtaposition between our handling of the pandemic in general and our handling of the education sector could not have been more obvious. As the COVID restrictions came into effect and the Government closed down all educational institutions, the schools, colleges & universities realised that they were not prepared to shift their classes from physical to online platform and hence they simply closed down their institutions in the hope that the pandemic would be over soon and they would shift back to their normal routine. Once it became clear that this situation would stick for some time, the institutions had no choice but to shift their classes to the online medium. And so began the rise of video conferencing applications like Zoom, Google Classroom & Microsoft Teams, to name a few.
The next big question was how the examinations would be held. The then Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood, after much delay, announced the cancellation of board examinations in 2020. The students of classes 10th and 12th would be judged based on their results of the previous year while the students of 9th and 11th would be promoted and their evaluation would be done through exams that would be held next year. Meanwhile O & A level students would get grades based on a set of criteria defined by Cambridge which would require schools to submit a performance report of the students.
As the next academic year began, the COVID wave went through its crests and troughs, the educational institutions had to juggle between online education, classes with SOPs, classes on alternate days for students and so on. As if the government ghost schools were not troubling enough, we saw a whole new level of incompetence with online education. Be it private or public, expensive or affordable or free, the institutions that did offer online education had no means of ensuring student attendance, testing or participation mechanism. Children simply entered the digital classes and then turned off their cameras and mics and went back to sleep. And due to this, they took a liking to online classes.
Whenever the government was just about to announce the opening of institutions, students would gather on the streets in the form of a crowd and on twitter in the form of a trend to fiercely fight against the anticipated government decision. Back in those days, our government had a tendency to run through twitter trends and so our education ministry would eventually give in.
The year 2021 was an unmitigated disaster as far as exams were concerned. We gave Cambridge (O & A level) permission to plan their physical exams (some other countries again opted for school assessed grades). And covid hit its peak once again at the time of examinations. Once again, there was chaos on the streets & twitter. Students and their parents were concerned about the rising covid cases but our ship to get the school assessed grades had sailed. As for the intermediate exams, the settlement between the students and the government led the latter to announce that no students would be failed, and the exams for only a certain subjects would be taken and the marks of the students would be extrapolated to cover all other subjects based on their exam performance.
Needless to say, as soon as the restrictions were lifted, these educational institutions got rid of whatever little they had acquired in terms of technology and innovation for online education. While the interactive boards, digital learning management systems, remote proctoring of exams and online classrooms were becoming a necessity across the world, it became a luxury to be afforded by the upper class only.
And hence the question arises, are we ready for another pandemic, education wise? Absolutely not. We have not mastered online learning methods, we have no way of ensuring dissemination of knowledge and we certainly have no idea about how to conduct examinations online. We haven’t learned from our shortcomings. Many international testing boards were fed up with the cheating cases and fake doctor prescriptions coming out of Pakistan and took the decision to postpone their examinations as well.
For education to truly evolve, our institutions, students and the government alike need to step up and work towards policy and technology implementation along with proper commitment otherwise we’re just another pandemic away from another round of online education and exams cancellation.