Dealing with COVID’s Education Challenge

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Children in refugee camps and other lower socioeconomic contexts are struggling to keep pace during the pandemic, further exacerbating the education inequality in the world. But education is too critical for their success.

Back-to-school can usually be described as bittersweet; the sad end of summer vacations and the excitement of reconnecting with school friends. This year, however, it comes with much consternation in Canada and globally with indications of a COVID-19 resurgence and the potential of a second wave.

The difficulties posed by the coronavirus have had a substantial impact on humanitarian work. As some societies shift towards a more digital lifestyle, socioeconomic disparities have worsened with the lack of technologies or weak infrastructure to support such initiatives in other contexts. In many places, schools and other educational centres have been forced to suspend their activities. This has not only been detrimental to the educational journey of millions of students around the world, but the economic effects have also been felt by unpaid teachers and staff among others.

An OBAT teacher visiting a student in his shelter to provide education material

At OBAT, we have continued to pay our teaching staff throughout the pandemic lockdown to diminish stress for them and their families. We have also tried to adjust to the ever-evolving circumstances of where we work. For example, our team has been distributing study materials daily to our students; training caregivers from each family twice a week on homeschooling; and regularly disseminating COVID-19 related awareness messages to students and their families. We were able to provide workbooks with UNHCR support to our students in the Rohingya refugee camps. And as lockdown measures eased during the summer, we managed to provide online learning to students in displaced population camps through limited smartphone availability and at our computer centres (once they were allowed to open). 

These measures are far from ideal, but we are doing what we can to address the great need. Education is too critical to their success.

In that spirit, we are moving ahead with an exciting new project: a brand new OBAT Canada Campus in Orangi Town in Karachi, categorized by the UN as the “largest slum in the world” in 2016. With a population of over 2.4 million, most of them from generations of refugees, the inhabitants of the locality have suffered from a plethora of socioeconomic problems for decades: access to high-quality education being high on the exhaustive list.

A science teacher and students in a lab at another OBAT Canada school

In collaboration with TCF Canada, our campus, the first of its kind in the area, will welcome students starting September 2021 and will host 180 boys and girls. The facility will include a computer lab, physics lab, chemistry lab, as well as a library. This is the first secondary school that will recruit from TCF’s existing three elementary schools in Orangi Town.

As we try to live with and adjust to COVID, it’s even more essential that we don’t neglect those already neglected. It’s not easy – and in some ways keeps getting harder – but we will continue to find ways to empower a new generation of youth through education and produce global leaders of tomorrow. Our hope is that through our collective efforts today, pandemics in the future will quickly become things of the past.