ASER-Pakistan’s report on the education status and learning outcomes of children in the five to 16 years’ age bracket in rural districts of Pakistan says that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a learning crisis for primary-school children.
The report of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of Pakistan released today says that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a learning crisis for primary-school children.
The report says that children attending government schools have shown a greater decline in learning than children from private schools during the period when the school were closed. These declines are particularly acute in lower classes, especially between grades 1 and 3.
Importantly, the researchers have announced that the learning outcomes improve with maternal education and with household wealth.
About 60 per cent of children currently enrolled in school spent less than an hour a day on their studies during school closures.
The ASER-Pakistan report says that while 40 per cent of children with smartphones in the home used these for learning, younger children receive less time to access these than older children. 55 per cent of children do not feel confident to study on their own if school closures reoccur.
About 32 per cent of children reported that they watched educational broadcasts through the country’s national broadcaster, PTV’s tele-school programs. But the researchers said that while PTV’s tele-school’s outreach is notable, its impact is unclear.
The study also emphasises that girls experienced greater learning losses than boys during the COVID-19 school closures across nearly all competencies and classes. This served to halt or even reverse an existing increasing trend in learning outcomes for girls who had, in some cases, outdid boys.
Crisis of equity
The study found that the learning levels were highest in surveyed districts of Punjab, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Learning levels were found to be the lowest in Balochistan.
On the contrary, learning losses were found to be the highest in surveyed districts of Balochistan, followed by Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Younger children who have not yet built a foundation for learning, are more vulnerable to learning losses, the report says. The report emphases that Pakistan’s crisis of learning is rooted in a deeper crisis of equity, girls as well as children from lower wealth backgrounds and certain geographical regions suffer the greatest learning losses in the country.
Said to be the country’s largest citizen-led household-based survey, ASER-Pakistan aims to provide regular, reliable estimates of education status and learning outcomes of children in the five to 16 years’ age bracket in rural districts of Pakistan.
The ASER study in 2021 was adapted to measure the impacts of COVID-19 following the unprecedented school closures of 2020 and early 2021. The survey was conducted in 16 rural districts of Pakistan (four each in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces) and surveyed 25,448 children from a total of 9,392 households.
Researchers used ASER tools mapped to sustainable development goal 4.1.1.a, learning assessments for language (English and Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto) and arithmetic competencies.
Based on the findings, the study has recommended that policies and programmes must be devised to support the learning of all children and focusing on young children and girls while simultaneously tackling factors leading to education inequities.
The researchers note the need for a new social compact for learning to build connections between families, communities, and schools to collectively support children’s schooling.