Muhammad Saleem Khan
BSc in Social Development and Policy
Valley Arkari is a small isolated mountainous region located at the verge of Pak-Afghan border. The particular valley has been facing ample of societal issues including the lack of basic facilities such as education, health, transport, and communication. Given myriad of these challenges, this pandemic put the rural area in a highly precarious position especially those who associated with education. This research aims to explore the multifaceted impacts of COVID 19 on the lives of students, specifically female and members of poorest families, belong to the above-mentioned geographical region. In doing so, it intends to find out those educations’ related problems which are inextricably linked with internet accessibility.
This research uses Karl Marx’s dialectical method of analysis by engaging with pertinent passages in the Method of Political Economy section in the Grundrisse. It also uses other texts of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels provided the explicit applicability of the given method. The purpose of using dialectical method is to comprehend how the two abstract concepts, namely pandemic and internet, are intertwined with concrete material relations pertaining to education sector. This paper discusses some of the key findings of the research:
Firstly, dialectical process is the particular kind of process in which two or more contradictory bodies interact with one another in such a way that one influences another and vice versa. In this context, the availability of internet as one force (thesis) while unavailability as an oppositive force (antithesis) keep interacting and the process is continuing. So far, especially in the last one year, one of the consequences of the specific historical process would be the rapid technological consciousness in the far-flung mountainous regions of poor countries like Pakistan. For instance, this ongoing biological crisis made the rural populaces realize that they need a different educational future in the sense that it would be based on virtual connection along with the course of intense digitalization.
The research explicitly shows that students who study in public sector universities are facing more challenges than their fellows in private institutions thereby the former remain on the have-not side of dialectic connection. These students not only deprived of internet facility at home but also lack proper support from their respective institutions. One of the respondents pointed out that “online system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s public universities is still in the formative stage, and at that time of corona outbreak it was just non-existent. If online learning restarts, it would be immensely difficult for students because most of the teachers themselves do not know about online teaching and they even do not have IT experts as well. In simple, here unfamiliarity with updated technology is something not uncommon.” Another friend from Islamia College Peshawar said that “our institution was literally unprepared for the online system, even now they don’t have proper strategy which means maximum chance of students being suffered.”
Female students from the specific area are experiencing higher rate of hurdles comprising of transport issues, absence of hostel facility, safety concerns and other societal challenges. It is precisely because of such issues that around ninety percent of the female participants mentioned that, compare to boys, they have to face more challenges as most of them could not attend online classes because they were not in a position to live in Chitral town given the expenses and other requirements. In this case, even those students faced same issues who study in elite institutions like Aga Khan University Institute of Educational Development. One of such students described: “I was at home, Arkari, but kept travelling to main Chitral city in order to take my classes. It was really a big challenge. First, I spent ten days at Chital city with relatives since there were no hostels or hostel facilities available at that time. During these ten days, I got typhoid then I contacted the university management who gave me permission to go home thus I went back to home with required materials i.e., video lectures, articles, PDF texts etc. In this way, I missed the classes yet kept engaged with major assignments.”
For female students, support of family members remained crucial factor since the inception of this pandemic. “I haven’t faced such problems because my family provided all the support which I needed including laptop, smartphone etc. In society, it did change to some extent as most of the girls are using smart phone and other digital materials”, said one of the respondents. The same contributor further said that “I lived at hostel for one or two weeks in which we were many students with limited internet access. In this hostel, they charged 500 rupees/ day even though internet connection was extremely unstable. Secondly, the issue of travelling long distance: if my husband did not have bike, it couldn’t have been possible to do those difficult stuffs. Also, for some time, I lived at hotel as well….it is something extremely difficult to someone who is financially unstable.” On average, students of valley Arkari faced quite same challenges as that of their fellows from other backwards areas such as Baluchistan, and Tribal areas. “Students from Baluchistan and other backward areas protested against the online classes because they had, like us, no access to internet”, said one participant.
This pandemic directly as well as indirectly exposed the contradictions between public and private institutions working in the given valley. Although government-owned educational institutions are working in the region for the last three decades, private sector particularly Aga Khan Education Service Pakistan (AKESP) is the largest education provider. People have strong trust in the latter sector because they do not trust the former despite being free public institutions, and vice versa e.g., explicit dialectic connection. In other words, AKESP’s schools are extremely popular because they provide comparatively better services than government’s institutions specially during testing times like the current pandemic. For instance, amidst this difficult situation, AKESP took some interesting initiatives to facilitate the given students through offline means i.e., cable TV, USB devices, short course packs, and other academic supports. “The transmission runs Monday to Saturday on cable TV in those of areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral where AKES, P schools are situated, and covers the curriculum from grade 1 to grade 8”.
Similarly, “the last two decades of educational journey shows that the achievements of private school students are higher compared to public school students due to the attention of parents and teachers, availability of resources and English-medium instruction” (Nawab & Rahim Baig, 2011, p. 4). AKES, as mentioned above, has been doing supportive works regarding offline learnings since the inception of current pandemic therefore students belong to AKES’s schools remained less affected. On the other hand, Government’s schools and the remaining private institutions are already facing multiple issues due to resource shortage as a result they are not in a position of doing anything like the former network does. While discussing the pathetic situation of government schools, one research paper mentions that “due to the shortage of teachers and space, two or more grades are accommodated in one classroom. A teacher teaches one group and then moves to the other group…” (Nawab & Rahim Baig, 2011, p. 2). This shows how the present pandemic further deteriorated the said situation.
Data from secondary sources showed the immense importance of dialectically connected societal relations within the selected geographical area. In other words, given the issue of internet unavailability, it becomes clear that the impacts of corona virus on the specific students depend on variety of social, political, economic, and culture factors. This leads to the core point of dialectical over-determination: understanding educational challenges also means understanding so many other related things simultaneously i.e., families’ financial position, access to modern resources, traditional education system, general social setup and so on. “It is important to understand that this partnership (among education-related social factors) will look different for people living through different circumstances depending on family structure, parents’ schedules, as well as resources and supports available to the families” . Although none of the aforementioned aspects can be considered as an only determinant factor, the element of conflict/tension is very much obvious and keeps changing over the period of time considering the ongoing pandemic. For example, the tension between tradition and modernity, real and virtual, private and public, inclusion and exclusion etc.
The available data clarified the point that the dialectic relationship between negation and creation or vice versa plays significant role in making sense of the myriad of problems facing by the particular students. In simple, to think from the rural perspective or to generate traditional mode of thinking means negation of the influences of modern way of thinking. It is from this standpoint that one can easily comprehend why students of valley Arkari are the way they are e.g., detached from internet-based learning practices, less familiarity with digital devices, and literally unprepared concerning the consequences of coronavirus. As one of the respondents precisely touched this point: “creation of new technology-based learning system is only possible if we successfully get rid of all those conditions which are necessary for the existence of the current situation i.e., unavailability of proper mobile network, deteriorated education system, no access to market, lack of human resources and so on”.
Another very important point is the dialectic between urgency and denial: addressing the urgent issues of the said students means negation of attitude which leads to denial of the particular issues. It mostly happens in present situation in which it is very rare to see policy formation or any other practical approach concerning the problems facing by young residents of valley Arkari. This denial aspect from the government side is vivid everywhere- both within and outside educational terrain. It is because of such attitude that residents of the given valley have never trusted government-based initiatives. On the other side, one non-government organization, namely Aga Khan Development Network (AKD) has been playing significant role in the overall development of this isolated mountainous region through public-private partnership (participatory) projects. If AKDN had not provided the remarkable supports in solving the various societal issues, the quality of life in the region would have been terribly bad. Just one example, more than eighty percent of the students who go for higher education are the products of AKDN.
Likewise, most of the participants agreed with this point that the current uncertain situation changed parents’ overall perception of learning. Referring to this point, one of the respondents said that “our parents have had very stubborn attitude towards the use of technology. They had very negative understanding of spending time with technological materials but now parents realized that these scientific tools are extremely important in helping students regarding their studies.” He further added that “my parents had no idea about the use of technology but now they knew that there’s something called online and children can learn outside classroom”.
Marx and Engels rightly pointed out that if a system became outdated or incompatible with the existing conditions then another advance and better system replace it. As French revolution replaced feudal property with bourgeois property because the latter class, bourgeois class, revolutionized its social structure as per the available conditions and associated opportunities.. Similarly, in this case, the traditional method of education is incompatible with the existing advance high-tech learning structure, and it is because of this reason the students from rural areas, like Arkari, are fronting unprecedent challenges. The point, however, is the need of revolutionary transformation from traditional to modern method of education via scientific applications e.g., making internet available to the respective citizens assuming correctly that this pandemic increased the probability of what Marx and Engels call as available conditions and associated opportunities.
The study concludes that the multifaceted impacts of COVID 19 on the education sector are directly linked with the availability of modern technologies like internet, digital devices etc. Evidences from the acquired data confirmed that there is an immediate need of comprehensive strategy to provide internet access to the marginalized rural communities. Research’s findings show that the process of digitalization is something indispensable in dealing with crisis alike the current pandemic, but absence of the same process is equally disastrous specifically for the illiterate and traditional societies.
In the particular mountainous region, although quality of life has significantly improved in the last few decades, people are still deprived of those facilities which are considered to be basic needs considering the scientific achievements of 21st century. The detachment from modern way of life also means that the upcoming years would be highly challenging because people are in the process of abrupt transition from simple to complex digitalized world with insufficient resources. To put differently, in the era of rapid technological advancement, valley Arkari represents many paradoxical phenomena regarding the importance of internet (un)availability provided the ongoing pandemic situation.
Finally, given the context of chosen case, the need of the time is to get rid of all traditional burdens concerning intellectual challenges. The ultimate point, however, is first to understand the overall phenomena then to struggle in order to bring the required change accordingly vis-à-vis transition from traditional to modern sphere. Most importantly, it requires futuristic approach based on revolutionary struggle. “The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot create its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin till it has stripped off all superstition from the past. …The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to realize its own content” (Marx, 2002, p. 247)