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The crisis response has three phases: pre, in and post. We have never made long-term preparations for a pandemic in a meaningful way that we already know.

Short term, when the Covid-19 news broke in January and China took drastic steps and gave the world about 30 extra days to prepare for what was to come, the federal government was still sleeping. Now that Covid-19 has landed, the organs of our country are seen scrambling, putting out fires, reversing and contradicting each other. Much has been written about how the left hand, a province, does not know what the right hand is doing, Islamabad.

Some countries in our region have succeeded from closing schools, to offices that work from home, to closing / canceling places / events that are not important, to locking, to curfews, while still maintaining production, supply, distribution, and shipping of goods important and service without confusion or rewind. This is not achieved by throwing money at the problem, but by having a mature plan, prepared in peacetime, at the ready. Pakistan’s response was an unplanned firefighting demonstration.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the spread of Covid-19 affected the education sector in Pakistan, and how various schools deal with school closures. Since then, there have been many reports on this topic. Therefore, when we are still in fire-fighting mode in a crisis, today I want to discuss post-crisis issues in education that we need to plan for now.

Earthquakes and monsoon floods are so common in our country that over the years we have developed SOPs for this situation, – but not for pandemics. The time to plan before and after the crisis has long since passed, but while we are still in the middle, we still have a few months to prepare for the post-crisis scenario.

For example, now is the time to plan the training, SOP, and budget needed to disinfect schools, especially those used as quarantine facilities. Now is the time to plan a communication campaign to eliminate parents’ concerns about children’s safety when they return to school. Now is the time to plan teacher training for cleaning and health services in the post-Covid-19 world. Obviously, some of these will require cross-departmental collaboration between the departments of health and education. Now is also the time to start thinking about improving / accelerating learning because school lessons are missed. Now is the time for donors and the private sector to review and redesign their plans to anticipate changing educational needs.

Maybe there is too much hope in a country like ours, but some children may need psychosocial support when school reopens, which is now seen after the summer. As I wrote before, some children can be at greater risk of being ignored and abused during this crisis.

Extended school closures also have the effect of pushing children on the verge of dropping out of school, overreaching. Pakistan has several informal programs for out of school children who strive to improve literacy rates. This hardly matches the rate of population growth, as evidenced by our literacy rate, which has barely moved in recent years. The current round of school closures can reverse much of the results of the hard struggle over the past few years.

Schools in several communities have continued classes in a variety of ways available to them. Basically, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted thousands of schools to test their approach to online education. As important as all of the items I mentioned above (and more attractive to me professionally) is the need for new steps to collect data, and learn the efficacy of all the online learning techniques that have been tested during this period. This will be a very rich data set for studies that can inform education policy in our country for years to come.

In the long run, the education system needs to adapt post-crisis, and we need to think about strengthening online education and the infrastructure it needs, to better cope with similar crises in the future. It might even be worth considering choosing one month of the school year and declaring it an ‘Online Learning Month’: One month every year where all learning at school takes place online. This can serve as a kind of fire drill, to ensure schools are ready to turn to online learning at a day’s notice during future emergencies.

I recently spoke with the Secretary of the Department of Primary and Secondary Education Nadeem Ahmed Chaudhary, who shared that his department had planned some of this. For example, the department is considering designing an academic acceleration program after school reopens to help children make up for lost time. Head of Planner Hashmat Ali, from the KP’s Department of Primary and Secondary Education, shared that disinfectant planning, SOPs to better prepare schools for any similar scenarios in the future were on their task list before the crisis ended. He also shared that the department brought together stakeholders to develop an action plan for post-corona school responses. This kind of forward thinking will be very important in determining which school system appears better and stronger after the crisis.

People who are in positions of power, and who are responsible for handling it, say the pandemic cannot be predicted in advance. That is not true. Leaving aside fortune tellers, astrologers, Whatsapp scholars and con artists, I want to leave you with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s words from his 2007 book ‘The Black Swan’:

“As we travel more on this planet, the epidemic will become more acute – we will have a population of germs dominated by some amount, and successful killers will spread far more effectively. I see the risk of a very strange acute virus spreading throughout the planet. “

The writer is a researcher and independent education consultant. He has a PhD in

Education from Michigan State University.

Email: [email protected]

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