The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training announced that all educational institutions in Pakistan would be closed until the end of May this year.
Nelson Mandela noted that
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In a crisis such as this pandemic, education should not be stopped. Higher education can give our youth the knowledge and responsibility to help Pakistan come out of this crisis.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) issued a set of guidelines so universities could move to online education, given they all have different capacities and infrastructure. Six prerequisites were:
- The availability of the Learning Management System (LMS)
- Faculty who have training in online teaching
- Readiness of the course for online learning
- Course material availability on the web
- Platforms being ready
- Ability of students to work online
Technical issues in a large country like Pakistan include arranging unified online platforms, the negotiation of taleem bundles, lectures in blended modes and facilitation committees of students all need to be considered. Quality and connectivity issues were raised by students, as they criticized the moves. However, any large change such as this would be time-consuming. With no end to the pandemic in sight, trying to save the cycle of education from large disruptions is worth fighting for. The HEC is also taking steps to ensure the quality of online classes. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, recently launched a tele-education channel, which aimed at keeping students in touch with their education through special lectures for classes from I to XII. A huge effort was made to have this prepared, and it should be appreciated as it will have implications in the future for the education of our young.
The challenges for online learning, during a pandemic, need to include all the stakeholders – students, faculty, education institutions, regulatory bodies and government. The challenges are multi-faceted, including societal, technical and regulatory.
Societal issues are a huge challenge. The elder members of society are generally suspicious of using electronic devices for learning and education purposes. There is a tendency for a lack of acceptance of this mode of learning from students as well. In their homes, individual space can be difficult. For example, if children and parents need to work from home at the same time there could be an unfriendly atmosphere and this could be extremely challenging. The lack of discipline and focus could impact the children’s ability to focus on e-learning.
Both teachers and students may be shy about being on camera and this is another issue. There can be a lack of tolerance when technical issues impede e-learning – this includes connectivity disruptions and other interruptions. There is little awareness of the ethics of digital learning, which compounds the situation.
Technical challenges include the unavailability of the internet in all areas. Students living in remote areas do not have access to the internet and therefore miss the online education. The internet infrastructure will not be able to provide the bandwidth required. Further to this is the high cost of high-speed internet.
On the regulatory side, the government has no policy for online learning. This is the government’s fault. It is made worse by the fact that the government and the regulatory bodies are not in agreement. An example of this is that the government has issued a notification that universities are to close, while the regulatory body has approved online learning. This is slowing down the acceptance of e-learning. The lack of clarity and reliable data about policy decisions are challenges for now and for the future. Despite this, these challenging times provide us with opportunities. To move from traditional teaching and learning to inclusive and equitable online learning, the development of a comprehensive policy for online learning is needed. Technical resources, such as computers, high-speed internet and online platforms are essential. Different learning modes could include shorter lectures, offline information, forums for discussion, and a change to assessment methods are all needed. The faculty need training and skill development to enhance online learning. If all these issues are not solved the future generation is at risk.