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April 7, 2020

Coronavirus stunts learning as Pakistan’s education system is thrown into disarray


Tue, Apr 07, 2020
Photo: Unsplash

Coronavirus has forced Pakistan into a difficult situation and while all of the state institution are struggling to deal with the pandemic, the education sector is no exception, online teaching has put teachers and students in the country to test. 

Following the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) directives, educational institutes across the country are trying to deal with the crisis at hand; however, many students seem unsatisfied with the way they are being provided with education online by their institutes.

Last week, '#WeRejectOnlineEducation' popped up as one of the top trends in Pakistan on Twitter, according to a report published by The News on March 27.

The News spoke with students and educators to get both sides of the story.

'We are overburdened'

A Karachi University student told The News, their online class was suspended after many students — majority hailing from the middle and lower-middle classes — were not able to attend the classes as they faced connectivity issues or did not have smartphones.

Another student at a private university in Karachi said his teachers “were not able to reach out to the students as they do, physically, in the classroom."

"Students were accustomed to the classroom environment and it is not easy for them to shift to online classes all of a sudden," he added.

“We are being overburdened with assignments and are unable to take practical classes due to the pandemic. The teachers are giving us tons of assignments which are practically impossible to do at the given deadlines — as they [teachers] are trying to fill in the gaps, caused by the coronavirus,” a student at another private university in Karachi said.

“I cannot understand what my teacher teaches me online, they cannot explain themselves clearly,” an O-level student at a private school said.

'Quick transition not easy'

In a country like Pakistan shifting to online education is not that easy.

“Pakistan is not a tech-savvy country which is one of the major reasons we are having problems in the education sector after the pandemic caused a countrywide shutdown,” Noman Ansari, a senior lecturer at Riphah International University, Islamabad said.

“Sooner or later, despite all the adversities, we will have to move some segments of our education towards virtual learning and coronavirus has given us that opportunity,” he noted.

“The biggest problem at hand is that teachers have no idea of how to deliver and students are not capable of comprehending it, as we had to shift our mode of teaching hurriedly,” he said, adding, “Quick transition is not easy, especially in Pakistan as the country is not technologically advanced.”

“Students are not used to of using their cognitive abilities to cope with the problems,” he said. “They are also trying to deviate from these classes and making excuses to halt them as for those who pay a semester fee of 90k-to 60k, buying average equipment or at least a smartphone is not much of a hassle.”

Director of Center for Excellence in Journalism, Institute of Business Administration, Kamal Siddiqi said: “Since we are heading towards a new direction, students and teachers alike are beginning to adjust to this new way. It is my humble opinion that recorded lectures are better than those that are synchronous.”

“There are a few challenges [in online education], one is technology and knowing how to use it, then there is acknowledging which platform to use,” he said, adding: “ One should be keen on using the already available platforms — especially the ones that students already know to how to use. “

“In terms of technical aspect, everyone has a laptop that has a camera, it is not much of a challenge to record lectures. Those who don't know can learn now. However, there are some who are unwilling to conduct lectures despite the available technology, upon personal insecurities,” he noted.

Responding to a question on how the students would be motivated to engage in online lectures, Siddiqi said: “The situation these days is not exactly ideal. Students have nowhere to go and nothing better to do.”

“I believe online classes will provide them with something beneficial. The youngsters are online all the time, whether it be Netflix or Facebook that is keeping them busy. Academia is a better investment of time. Since online classes are here to stay. This is not only just because of the lockdown. I believe we will move towards blended learning,” Siddiqi added.

Muneeb-ul-Hasan a lecturer at a private institute — teaching undergraduate students — said, “I provide students with recordings, PDF books, and give them assignments. So far, the response has been good because the students can hear my lectures just like songs on their playlist.”

Yaseen Alam an O-level’s teacher at a private school in Karachi tells us that he has received positive feedback from the students and that these classes were helping him in keeping the topic short, precise, and to the point, which is beneficial for both parties.

Meanwhile, Shahida, a government school teacher said they had finished the school year and were preparing to conduct examinations but were unable to do so due to the school closure orders.

The federal government, in late March, had announced that education institutions across Pakistan would remain closed till May 31 after cases of the coronavirus started surging in the country.

'Introduce schemes for students'

Alishbah Sijal, a student at Karachi University, told The News that online classes should take place as we need to shift towards virtual learning sooner or later. “The better way for teachers and educational institutions is to record lectures rather than giving them in real-time. This way we can cope with the hindrances and the students can easily access lectures even on a slow internet connection,” she said.

She added, “Laptop schemes at university and college levels should be reintroduced so that in future, such a gap does not come in between classes and every pupil would have the required equipment to access the class.”

“A subsidised internet package should be introduced for students so that they can easily get high-speed internet to help them in their online study,” Sijal added.