The advantages of a virtual single school system

Elf Habib

A vibrant virtual version of a single or unified school system has eluded Pakistan ever since its inception.

A system proffering the same standards, spaces, ambience, teachers, learning, labs, sports and recreational facilities for all kids has been cherished by most parents, planners and reformers as the divisions, differences and stratification in our school systems have become too alarming. Over one third of our children are out of schools while about another two million enrolled in the madrassas, are also insulated from the rapidly evolving imperatives of the modern world, so swiftly transformed by the scientific and technological innovations impacting human thought, culture, commerce, business and growth of a global village. Even those in schools face a weird chasm in facilities and training imparted in government and private schools contrasted further by their location, in urban, rural and remote areas. The government schools, rather than ensuring a single unified training system, are also divided into the so-called Danish and non-Danish, cadet, chhupper, open-air types and several others operated by various departments and organisations.

The divisive system also spurs a divided mindset, psyche, spirit and the strategy to approach the personal, social and national imperatives. Still the recourse and resources to create a realistic unified education system have been persistently ignored and seem even more elusive with the ever-rising rhetoric and expenditure on non-productive passions. A likely low-cost retribution for this lapse, at least to some extent, was founding the open school system modelled on the pattern of the open university model. This university, first pioneered by the British Labour Premier Harold Wilson in 1969 and almost immediately emulated in Pakistan, has now evolved into the largest national portal for higher education. Another parallel version known as the Virtual University also emerged in 2002. Their contribution must have been evidently supplemented by a similar basic school system as any dispassionate analysis reveals a more desperate need to refurbish the basic education system.

This brings us to the exigency and relevance of an open school system streaming through the vast distant sprawls, diversity of culture, caste, creed and ethnic backgrounds, frame of mind, reference portals and the cognitive patterns in Pakistan. This system has actually now been functioning in several countries around the globe including Canada, African, Latin American regions. Initiated even in India in 1989, it has evolved to become the largest open school system on earth.

The system, besides surpassing the dictates of distance and furnishing a flexible learning format also has a special relevance to reduce the gender gap in literacy rates that have been perpetuated by our perceptions about purdah and the movement constraints on the female aspirations. The gender gap in the male and female literacy levels in Pakistan, ranging from 12 percent to 35 percent for various groups and categories, is almost the highest in the world.

Incorporating Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality techniques can miraculously teleport the learners to the most fabulous classrooms and labs, transcending even their remote moribund environs. This can garner special learning stimuli for scientific concepts and experiments and help overcome the lack of labs and equipment in the remote regions. These facilities can be further modified and converted to ramp up the adult and informal education sectors and the vocational, technical and specialised skill imparting and enhancement centres. The new open school genre can be easily integrated with the other existing classrooms, training and kindred facilities. This unique blend or hybrid aspect was not accessible even to the analogous open university genre. Several further hybrid extensions and spin-offs for the open school streams, in fact, can be extrapolated to many other training and tech centres.

The system can start with some spare PTV channels supplemented with partner mobile phone and tablet streams. The founding and maintenance costs of the system can be curtailed by a collaboration of the Federal and Provincial governments, aided likely by various foundations and philanthropists already involved in the non-profit education projects. The cost-benefit criteria for this most essential and contributing companion school system is quite tempting and rewarding, especially if compared with the analogous number of the usual brick and mortar school models. Its inception and development can certainly deliver what was yearned yet missed for seventy years.

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