Education via Soap Operas: Edutainment as education policy tool in Merged Areas

The Nation  |  Jun 15, 2021

Improving access to education in the Merged Areas (MAs) is one of the many challenges the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is striving to overcome. In the post-Covid era, technology played a central role in people’s lives, an avenue which the provincial government is exploring to bring education reforms for the digital age.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Merged Areas Governance Project (MAGP) organized a webinar on Tuesday called “Innovations in Education to Enhance School Quality”, the first in the series centred around implementing technological innovations to increase the access and quality of education.

Legislators, as well as researchers, discussed the possibility of reforming education via the use effective use of soap operas or edutainment as well as text messaging to maintain a parents-first approach. In his opening remarks, Elementary and Secondary Education Department Chief Planning Officer (CPO) Muhammad Hashim “The KP government has already demonstrated its commitment to enhancing education in the region through the Accelerated Implementation Programme’s (AIP) education schemes.”

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“As part of the AIP education schemes, the government formed Parent-Teacher Councils allowing for greater ownership by the community and parents,” the CPO said. “Stipends for students have been introduced to reduce the drop-out rate and improve retention. Free textbooks, bags and stationery are also being provided to incentivize parents to send their children to school,” he said, adding that incorporating innovative approaches may improve the education statistics of the region further. 

Sharing his insights, Education Specialist UNDP-MAGP and Professor, Georgia State University Dr Alberto Chong, the keynote speaker at the event, said that research shows when properly designed digital solutions are implemented, educational enrolment rises by 10% to 15% and educational quality grows from 2% to 5%. Dr Chong said that after a rigorous evaluation of nearly a hundred technological innovations in sectors such as health, education, governance and finance, “it was found that only one-third of such innovations live up to their expectations.” 

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“However, not all technological solutions are ineffective,” he added.

“Nudging techniques have been useful in modifying behaviour and achieve positive outcomes,” Dr Chong said. This includes using progressive messaging in soap operas as well as using text messages to reach parents and strengthen parent-teacher communication. “The impact is positive and can be dramatic and long-lasting,” the education specialist added.

 Senior officials of relevant government departments, including the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Higher Education and Directorate of Education of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attended the event. Representatives from UNICEF, Adam Smith International, British Council, and Teach for Pakistan were also in attendance. Representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) also ensured their presence through virtual participation.

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After a robust discussion, the session was concluded by Farid Khattak, Additional Director for the Merged Areas in the Directorate of Education. He said that a parent-first educational intervention is relatively uncommon in education, but in recent times, it has become more generalized and have the potential for greater impact. 

“The Merged Areas have a unique political economy and challenges that are more severe compared to other regions in the country, he said. “Therefore, the government would benefit from utilizing innovative interventions as seen in the soon to be launched Special Emphasis Programme (SEP) for Education that aims to turn headteachers into innovators for rapid enrolment, improved quality and governance.”

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