Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Jawad Kazim gets distracted while attending online classes. Photo by Noorulain Kazim

In Karachi, Pakistan, mothers of primary school kids have been juggling  piles of household chores, expectations of the family members, and the extremely demanding online classes of their children. For most mothers, the reopening of schools this month calls for a celebration a sigh of relief. 

“I am happy that schools are finally reopening and things are starting to get back to normal,” said Noorulain Kazim, a mother of two. 

The most challenging aspect for many has been keeping kids disciplined which schools help with and keeping them focused on school work. .

Noorulain Kazim, 31, said that her kids, Jawad and Maleeka who go to Beaconhouse School, do not go to bed on time and get distracted easily. Jawad starts playing video games on his tablet or switches on the TV to watch cricket, while Maleeka turns the video off on Zoom and goes back to sleep. 

“In this episode, the person who is the most burdened and traumatized is the mother,” said Kazim.

Without domestic help, a mother finds herself overwhelmed with household work and expectations of the school. Not only does she have to explain the concepts to the kids again, but also has to keep track of their deadlines, and upload assignments on Google Classroom. Connectivity issues and frequent power breakdowns have added to the misery.

Unum Shafiq, a mother of a 5- year- old preschooler, believes that online classes do not help at all and her son’s comprehension levels have significantly dropped. For her, school is about the wholesome learning experience in a facilitated environment.   

“My kid in kindergarten has classes that go on for three and a half hours but he hardly retains anything,” she said. “When he goes to school, the physical presence of the teacher makes a lot of difference. Now he stares at the screen where the letters of the alphabet are on display and can only hear his teacher’s voice, which is a big disconnect.”  

After school hours for Unum are particularly tiring and it is very difficult for her to keep her kid busy. 

“On regular days, my son comes back from school exhausted,” she said. “After playing a little, doing his homework, and his Qura’an classes, he is drained and falls asleep.” 

Umum lives in a joint family and her husband and father-in-law have been very supportive and involved throughout, but she said that her sister and some of her friends do not enjoy that type of support.

Gardening as an extracurricular activity at school has kept Anaya Abbas engaged in the last few months. Photo by Midhat Abbas

For Midhat Abbas, a mother of two girls, Alizey, 9,  and Anaya,7,  who go to Dawood Public School, the last few months have been really hectic too. The girls start their day in front of their screens at 8:30 a.m. School ends at 2 p.m., with a 30-minute break in between. Extra curricular activities like gardening and cooking classes have added a little life to this monotonous routine, but have stretched the mothers, who support these activities  further, leaving them no time for themselves. 

“Before COVID, us mothers would go for breakfast once the kids went to school,” said Abbas. “Since the pandemic, we have met over Zoom once. We hardly ever get time for other activities. I have started feeling very depressed due to this.” 

For some families though, mental health and depression are privileged-people problems. Midhat’s friend has a family of three school aged kids, who do not have proper electronic equipment to take online classes. One of the kids takes the classes on the mother’s phone, one joins via the father’s, and one marks attendance through the aunt’s device. 

Fatima Abbas, who has two primary school kids, said her kids’ school have not experimented with online classes. They have instead moved to an assignment based continuation of studies where she has to bring back handouts and homework from their school every week and turn in the ones from the previous week. 

The government of Pakistan announced reopening of schools in phases, with students of grades 9 to 12 returning Sept. 15 , secondary students  Sept. 23, and the primary school students and preschool kids Sept. 30.



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