Thousands of students have been out of schools across Pakistan ever since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in the country. While most of them have resorted to online classes, the students of Gilgit Baltistan and neighbouring mountainous areas have discovered a new channel for education: the radio.
‘Muallim’, a radio programme, is aired on FM-93 Radio Pakistan and FM-91 Gilgit and Skardu at 2:00 pm and at Radio Pakistan’s Medium Waves 1512 kilohertz at 7:00 pm and daily. It educates more than 100 students in these areas where access to television and internet is bare minimum.
The initiative was started by Alight Pakistan, a civil society organisation, and the National Commission of Human Development in collaboration with the Education Department of Gilgit Baltistan.
According to Alight Pakistan Deputy Chief Kamran Iftikhar, the programme was prepared within 1.5 months and caters to the students of classes one, two and three.
“We have a team of 10 teachers who have prepared the entire course for the students,” he said on SAMAA TV’s programme Naya Din on Tuesday. “We also have six students who are working as volunteers. They help the teachers while also hosting the programmes.”
The course of the programme is entirely in Urdu and is not based on textbooks but on a curriculum that is followed across Pakistan. “The standard learning objectives are that same that are being taught in every province, the language may be different, but the context is the same,” Iftikhar said.
While radio has proven to be a good source to reach children in remote areas, it has also increased challenges for teachers.
“Physically teaching children or through online classes where you can be seen is very different than the radio set up where your voice is the only thing a child hears,” Yusra Sheikh, a teacher at Muallim said.
“The only tool we have here is our tone because we can’t see how the child is reacting, can’t ask questions and can’t interact,” she explained, pointing out that they, therefore, decided to keep the entire emphasis on their tone and be as prominent as they can.
Sheikh said that in this scenario, the involvement of parents was key to the students’ learning. “The homework we were assigning to the students had to be checked by parents or elder siblings only,” she said, adding that this is a three-tier process involving teacher, students and parents.
According to the Deputy Chief Iftikhar, Muallim started from 2,000 students and has now reached more than 200,000 children. “The number also includes the students in government schools,” he said.
Teachers in the region went door-to-door creating awareness about the programme among parents and students.
Iftikhar said that they have decided to upscale the programme by introducing it in other provinces for which the organisation is in talks with the respective governments.
He added that they will initially start educating children of remote areas in the provinces in Urdu and then extend the studies in various other local and regional languages as well.