Pakistan: Technology boosts education reform in remote areas
- Education in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces has been hampered by natural disasters, poor infrastructure and remoteness, and further exacerbated by political, economic and security problems.
- From WhatsApp groups to biometric fingerprint systems, innovative technology has helped with building and restoring schools and improving teacher retention in these remote regions.
- Since 2014, GPE’s support has led to 53,000 previously out-of-school children enrolled in school in Balochistan, and the tracking of educational data in all 29 districts in Sindh.
In Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces, the governments are tackling a range of barriers affecting children’s access to education. While Sindh is urbanized, the 2010/11 floods devastated education provision in its poorer areas. Rains destroyed 14% of all public schools and student participation has been low.
A high rate of teacher absenteeism and the resulting poor quality of education have also contributed to children missing school. Girls in rural areas and children from the lowest-income households have been most likely to go without an education and large numbers of schools have been regularly closed or without teaching staff.
In Balochistan, a large, sparsely populated province, a combination of economic, political and security issues have affected education. Almost half of the province’s 22,000 settlements do not have a school nearby and one million children are out of school.
Of equal concern is the lack of a supportive learning environment for enrolled students: 78% of schools lack suitable buildings, trained teachers and adequate learning materials.
Technology offers solutions to improve school infrastructure
Supported by a US$34 million GPE grant, the government of Balochistan set up digital profiles to record land transfers and follow school construction, supporting the completion of schools and allowing education officials to track progress.
Large-scale surveys gathered geospatial data, an innovative and cost-effective way to identify abandoned buildings that could be transformed into schools.
Balochistan also established criteria for the selection of school sites, ensuring no other school existed within a 1.5 km radius and that locations enabled at least 20 out-of-school children to attend. This resulted in schools being built in remote areas with the most need.
Since 2015, 700 schools with new or renovated buildings have been completed and more than 100 girls’ primary schools upgraded to secondary. With GPE support, education authorities began to track real-time data in 14,000 schools, including teacher attendance and enrollment.
This has helped with the allocation of funding to locations with the greatest need. Android apps also record the physical infrastructure of schools, providing timely information on the functionality of toilets, drinking water and electricity.
School monitoring using technology
Both provinces use tech solutions to support management and ensure accountability in the education system. In Balochistan, apps keep track of teacher attendance, recording when teachers are within a certain geo-radius of the school; they work offline in more remote areas, uploading information when there is network access.
Fingerprint-based biometric and photograph systems supported by GPS coordinates are also able to track teaching hours.
Greater incentive and validation for teachers
In a significant boost to quality learning, GPE supported the recruitment and training of qualified teachers, with emphasis placed on hiring female teachers to increase girls’ enrollment. Since 2015, 1,200 teachers have been recruited in Balochistan after passing the national testing service exam.
Better teaching and consistently open schools have helped increase student enrollment, with over 56,000 more girls enrolling in public elementary, primary and middle schools in Sindh.
Teachers acknowledge the benefits of the new technology. Through WhatsApp groups, they are able to connect, share knowledge, promote peer-learning and build camaraderie. The teachers are now recognized for their work and feel validated.
Innovations during COVID-19
An ambitious distance learning scheme is being rolled out across Pakistan, thanks to a US$20 million accelerated grant from GPE. Using social media platforms along with radio, TV and mobile phones as distance learning channels, this approach is a viable option to reach the nearly 19 million students who were already out of school before the pandemic hit.
The program initially targets a minimum of 11 million children, with at least 50% girls, who may otherwise have left school due to the negative impact of COVID-19 on household incomes.
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.
GPE’s support of innovative technology shows results
Technology has changed the education landscape in both Balochistan and Sindh for the better. In Balochistan, 53,000 previously out-of-school children, of whom 72% are girls, are now enrolled in GPE-supported schools.
With an 89% student retention rate, these schools will help children transition to higher levels of education.
In Sindh, all 29 districts now collect data, and with a new digital system to monitor teacher presence, more than 26,200 schools and 210,000 education staff are fully accountable and recognized for their work.
This has improved the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching, ensuring more children have access to the education that they need.