Whosoever had pinned hopes for at least part of education to return to normalcy this school year was up for a troubling surprise, come Omicron. Because it is the third year down the row and our students are still struggling to concentrate at an endless number of Zoom screens and ratchety internet connections. Many find it a pleasurable routine where childish manoeuvring helps you gain attendance but without any pressure to concentrate.
Now that there is swirling talk of yet another lockdown, thanks to positivity numbers breaking new records every day. An obvious solution to prevent an excruciating onslaught on the healthcare system would be to close the doors to schools. Anticipating the worst of times, many parents can be seen shifting their weight around uneasily; trying to carve new plans, seating arrangements. Meanwhile, educators have heaved out a deep sigh of remorse because every single missed class means another major milestone not achieved. The UNICEF is ringing alarm bells of an insurmountable loss over pandemic-related disruptions. A report by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi similarly lamented an overwhelming increase in the dropout rate of children between six and 16 years in Pakistan. Failing to accomplish learning outcomes has been another sob story altogether. And this one-step-forward-two-steps-backwards is the maudlin–almost in tears–appeal of the more fortunate ones. It is clearly not possible for even middle-class families to provide several mobile devices and a stable connection to their school-going children. The less said about those from struggling families (crossing rivers of fire to reach their classrooms every day) the better. Since the majority of remote regions either do not have fibre optic lines or had the infrastructure shut down over security issues, internet connectivity in Pakistan largely relies on whether one hits the affluent provinces’ jackpot.
In the simplest of words, there can be no substitute for in-school learning; an enriching experience left hanging in mid-air, thanks to our determined resolve to keep the pandemic roaring. Experts call for greater academic support and necessary measures to have safe classrooms. Let’s not take a seemingly neverending list of position-holders securing medals in central board examinations as reason to sit back and look for indicators that actually matter.