During the monsoon of 2022, when catastrophic floods hit Pakistan, access to education was disrupted for more than 3.5 million children in the country. Six months later, when we collected new data, many of those children were still at risk of being left behind and forgotten.
Despite positive progress in economic, education, and health indicators, gaps have widened and the poorest families and those worst hit by the floods face unrelenting economic and social stresses. The disruption to education and the lack of focus on learning recovery will likely have long-term effects on Pakistan’s human capital, which is among the lowest in the region.
What does our new analysis, based on our new report 'Children and Their Families Six Months After Pakistan’s Floods', tell us about the challenges faced by flood-affected children?
First, socio-economic instability continues to be a major factor. Poor families are nearly three times as likely to still reside in a temporary shelter. And even though the primary income sources of the poorest families have largely recovered, increased daily financial pressures mean that 33 percent of parents are reporting that their children need to work rather than go to school.
Secondly, worsening inflation is contributing to higher levels of food insecurity, which can impact a child’s learning development. Food inflation has increased to 48 percent by April, 2023, contributing to the projected 11.8 million people that will likely experience high level of acute food insecurity. The long-term impacts of malnutrition are stark. They include child mortality, delayed child development, poor school readiness, inability to concentrate, and school dropout.
Schools also face logistical challenges in reopening. Six months post-flood, 92 percent of households reported uncertainty about when their local school would reopen. Adding to the problem, more schools are being used as temporary shelters. This situation highlights the need for concerted efforts to re-open schools for education while managing the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Finally, several flood-related hurdles are making it difficult for children to return to school.Distance to school has long been a barrier to accessing education in Pakistan, particularly for girls in rural areas. Following the flooding, 16 percent of households report that their commutes remain disrupted – nearly half report that their commute time has increased by more than one hour.
For those children that have been able to return to school, the average time school was out of session was seven weeks. While this is a relatively short period, evidence from Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake shows that just four weeks of school closures could lead to learning losses equivalent to 1.5 academic years four years later if not addressed with targeted remedial education.
Building Resilience in Education Systems
As a country highly vulnerable to climate change, Pakistan's efforts to ensure universal education are critical. Like all nations, Pakistan can best support their children's education by prioritizing resilience in their education system to withstand climate change events. This calls for a comprehensive approach, spanning from central education departments down to individual schools, and involving district-level planning and response to disasters such as floods and earthquakes. The goal of these efforts should be to guarantee the safety, wellbeing, and continued learning of all children.
What steps can provincial governments and districts take to make their education systems more resilient?
Governments can create second shift (by operating a second session during the school day in the same building) schedules for schools that have not been damaged and remain safe. Past initiatives in Punjab have demonstrated that second shift schooling can significantly increase girls' access to education, especially those who would otherwise have to commute long distances.
Innovative strategies to shorten travel times should be explored. This could involve forming public-private partnerships or leveraging corporate social responsibility initiatives to ensure safe transportation for all students—girls and boys alike—to and from schools.
Launching accelerated programs in basic literacy and numeracy at the start of the new academic year could also make a difference to bring students up to speed on what they have missed during school closures. These classes should be organized based on children’s learning levels, not their age. Also, a dedicated reading hour each day could assist learning recovery, and would help children with all the subjects in the curriculum.
Teachers should also be supported in the recovery. Training to equip teachers with the necessary skills to foster a secure and welcoming learning environment should be prioritized. This should include psychosocial support training to help children recover from traumatic experiences—such as those caused by disasters— utilizing techniques such as Psychological First Aid and art therapies.
Given the link between malnutrition and poor learning outcomes, in districts with high rates of malnutrition and wasting, governments should consider implementing short-term school meal programs. Efforts should be made to strengthen collaboration between health and education departments, to identify children at risk and support them through school-based health programs.
And finally, data should be used to focus resources and assistance in areas most in need. This strategy can ensure optimal use of limited resources and maximize the impact of recovery efforts for the children who are most at risk of being left behind.
In conclusion, the crisis facing Pakistan’s children in the aftermath of the 2022 floods is stark and immediate. The disruption to education, increasing socioeconomic instability, and rising food insecurity pose significant threats to the future of these children, especially the most vulnerable. As we have learned from prior natural disasters, the negative impacts are long-lasting and reverberate far beyond the immediate moment. To prevent another lost generation, we must act now.