Pakistan: Expanding equal access to learning during coronavirus
June 17, 2020 by Hoa Tranringrose, GPE Secretariat |
5 minutes read

GPE is supporting Pakistan to cope with the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the education system. A US$20 million grant will support the federal and provincial governments to strengthen their capacity to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 crisis, while ensuring the most vulnerable children are not left behind.

The closure of all education institutions in mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has disrupted learning for 40 million students in Pakistan. The most disadvantaged and hardest- to-reach children – especially young and adolescent girls – have been disproportionately affected.

The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely reduce available resources for the education sector, and for the poorest districts in the country, further exacerbating regional disparities in education expenditure and negatively impacting education outcomes as a whole.

To manage the situation, the Ministry of Education is adjusting its strategy to increase provincial and federal coordination, while also taking steps to protect earlier gains in access to quality education, preparing for an eventual return to school, and increasing the education system’s resilience to future shocks.

A focus on disadvantaged students, especially girls

In May, Pakistan received a US$20 million GPE grant to strengthen the federal and provincial governments’ capacity to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 crisis while building resilience to future threats. While the GPE program targets the entire country, the focus will be on vulnerable children, particularly girls, who live in remote areas with limited access to technology.

The implementation of the GPE grant will be facilitated by the World Bank - the grant agent - which will ensure the grant is appropriately managed. In conjunction, UNICEF - the coordinating agency - will coordinate the work of the local education group to ensure harmonized support in addressing the unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19.

"GPE funding for Pakistan is essential to ensure children’s safety, especially the most vulnerable, and to ensure learning continuity during the pandemic. It is also the first part of a development partners’ package to support Pakistan to Respond, Recover, and Rebuild a better education system."
Illango Patchamuthu, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan

With GPE’s support, Pakistan will promote equity in education by establishing a new system of incentives for provinces to invest in the most disadvantaged geographical areas and encourage alternative methods of education delivery. The GPE program is expected to benefit at least 11 million students and teachers, of whom at least 50% are expected to be female.

The program’s focus on the most vulnerable students could serve as a stepping stone to formalize distance education as an alternative method of instruction and a viable option to reach the nearly 19 million students who were already out of school before the pandemic.

“The closure of educational facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented risk to the education, learning and well-being of children across Pakistan. UNICEF is very grateful to GPE for approving an allocation of US$20 million to the country from the COVID-19 accelerated funding window managed by World Bank Pakistan. These funds will help Pakistan’s Federal Government, together with provincial and district authorities, keep the most vulnerable children learning. They will for instance enable girls living in Balochistan to learn through a home-school program, and children in other provinces via tele-education and digital platforms.

The allocation of US$140,000 by GPE to UNICEF for system-level response has already been instrumental in the development of Pakistan National Education Response and Resilience Plan for COVID-19, to guide the safe re-opening of schools and ensure the continuity of learning.”
Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan

Distance learning to support continued education for all

The GPE program will expand access to education content and learning materials for the hardest to reach children who are the most at risk of dropping out or being exposed to social pressures or abuse. The program will finance the development of additional learning content for students in grades 1-12 as well as preschoolers, complementing the government’s current efforts in broadcasting lessons on TV.

GPE funding will also support the dissemination of lessons through additional platforms including radio, print, mobile applications and social media. The availability and schedule of lessons will be promoted via communications campaigns, which will reinforce messages on the importance of learning continuity – with a special emphasis on girls.

The GPE-funded program will enable the design and implementation of an inclusive distance learning certification pathway to help integrate 19 million out-of-school children – especially girls – into the mainstream education system. This certification will also target students who dropped out of school due to the negative shocks to household incomes caused by COVID-19.

In parallel, the GPE program will finance the development of learning materials for children living in remote areas. Learning materials will include books, home-based assignments, and resources to support parents with home-schooling.

Children from poor households will also receive tablets, and devices to create internet hotspots. In conjunction, the ministry will improve coordination with telecom companies to ensure low-cost internet access in the provinces.

Disseminating vital messages through sensitization campaigns

The GPE program will support the expansion of education and health sensitization campaigns to promote hygiene and COVID-19 related safety practices. These campaigns will disseminate education engagement and re-engagement messages with a special focus on children at risk of dropping out of school.

The campaigns – which will also reach refugee children enrolled in public schools – will be gender-sensitive and promote messages on abuse and violence prevention for those at risk following the school closures. These messages will be disseminated through several channels with content translated into local languages for a broad outreach.

GPE funding will help establish safety and well-being programs for students, parents and educators. These programs will be delivered through low-tech and easily accessible mechanisms such as telephone hotlines to provide guidance and referrals to resources.

Promoting safe schools and a smooth return for teachers and students

GPE will strengthen the federal and provincial government’s implementation capacity for effective recovery of education services. This will be achieved by promoting student and teacher health safety in schools and improving the capacity of educators to safely deliver education to students.

Guidelines and protocols will be designed for the safe re-opening of schools, and schools will be provided with basic sanitization and hygiene supplies to ensure they meet the protocol standards, and students will be provided with learning materials.

To address learning gaps caused by the disruption of education, GPE will support the design and delivery of professional development opportunities for teachers, focusing on remedial education, distance learning strategies and learning assessments practices.

GPE will also contribute to improve the capacity of provincial and federal governments to identify effective distance learning strategies that can lead to improved education outcomes, while at the same time designing strategies and implementation plans to deal with future education disruptions.

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