An ‘Education Lock-Down’

Students Protest

– Story by Haider Kaleem.

The Federal Minister for Education, Shafqat Mahmood justified why the Government must continue its plan to make students attend classes despite the non-availability of the Internet in most of the peripheral areas of Pakistan. But at the same time, I could not answer thoroughly regarding the problems that the students were facing in taking online classes.

The minister was interviewed regarding the matter by Munizae Jahangir on April 1, 2020, in her talk show ‘Spotlight’ which aired on Aaj TV.

Educationist and CEO of the Idara-e-Taaleem-o-Agahi (ITA) Baela Raza Jamil spoke to regarding this.

“Pakistan has the opportunity to upgrade its digital space as of now because right now all the educational institutions have been shut down hence students on different levels are very upset about how their education will continue,” she said. “But it is not enough to say that this should be declared as ‘summer vacations’ because everyone is very concerned about how and why it is to be done. Hence the demand to upgrade and ensure the availability of the internet everywhere is very important and must be fulfilled immediately.”

Luckily, Pakistan has 20 to 25 educational institutions that are doing great work on digital solutions on all levels, she said.

“My organization ITA is also a member of the ‘Ilm Association’ which is also focused to provide important digital solutions for students as soon as possible without any kind of monopoly over it,” she said. “Federal and provincial governments have now collectively produced educational content which will now reach the people through television because it is accessible. Although most people now prefer to access information through their smartphones so if they have the internet, a lot of good Pakistani produced content can reach them much quicker for free especially during the lockdown. Our youth must not be deprived of it and even parents along with their children can also learn a lot.”
Regarding the lack of internet access, she said that discriminating students would be extremely unfair.

“It would be very unjust to digitally discriminate the dissemination of knowledge and education in some areas, only because they are not being given access to the internet,” she said. “The newly-merged districts especially need it the most without wasting any time if we really want to defeat the coronavirus and promote digital learning.”

Meanwhile, a students’ rights organization, the Progressive Students Collective who were also campaigning to end online classes have issued a statement as a response to the minister’s justifications in the show.

“The truth is that our Minister does not know that this is not about universities, rather it is about the fact that almost 60 percent of students do not have access to internet facility because they hail from remote areas where there are no connections or they belong to the working class who cannot afford access.

We cannot make sense of this statement by him as on one hand he is acknowledging that there is a genuine problem but despite that he wants universities to continue online classes. It shows that either he has too much of an ego as he does not want to take back his decision or he does not care if the system excludes a major chunk of students.
Even if exams are taken after the crisis is over, how will the students be able to pass when they have been deprived of online classes as they do not have the internet facility.

The PTI came into the Government with a promise of spending on education but instead they have cut 50 percent budget of education and scholarships of students from peripheries.
Why should the students of private institutions pay fees for online classes when no resources of the universities are being used? The fact is that students have not been able to learn anything from these classes so they should not pay dues for YouTube suggestions only.”

Meanwhile, Chief Minister KP Mahmood Khan on March 2, vowed to approach the Federal Government to ensure the availability of resuming 3G and 4G internet services to facilitate the students of tribal districts in getting online education which has been made compulsory by the Federal Government.

But a member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan, Mohsin Dawar told that the problem could not be solved so easily.

“The CM has waived aside the issue by making such a statement but the actual problem is that there has been no clear cut statement on the matter so far,” he said. “I raised this issue on the floor of the parliament but was only given the same old logic of 4th generation warfare by Federal Minister Ali Muhammad Khan to which I asked that are you only making ex-FATA the sacrificial lamb of this 4th generation war because if this war is still being fought the implications should be across the board by shutting down the internet in the whole country. Then I spoke to the PM and he said he would resolve the matter soon so when he visited a few areas of former FATA he made an announcement that he would restore 3G and 4G services there but it has not been done yet.”

Dawar says that the real problem is that the Government and its agencies did not want to bring internet so that the real law violations in the area would not be exposed to the public there.

“Seems like only this reason, otherwise I can see no other reason,” he said. “No one can contain information in today’s world. It is but the colonial mindset of the state which is not letting its people exercise its right to access of information through the internet. This is a form of oppression.”