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March 27, 2020

University students want semester break

Lahore

March 27, 2020

LAHORE:At a time when higher education institutions in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world are fast shifting to online learning in the wake of closures to contain the spread of coronavirus, Pakistani universities’ students took to social media on Thursday demanding the authorities to convert closures into semester break.

“We reject online education” popped up as one of the top trends in Pakistan on the microblogging website Twitter and the hash tag remained on the top for quite some time with most of the tweeters expressing concerns over no or poor internet connectivity and lack of, what they termed, “effectiveness” of the online education. They demanded that the institutions instead of shifting to online education should convert closures in semester breaks and hold on-campuses classes when campuses reopen in summer. One of the tweets which was copied and pasted by majority of the tweeters read: “Online classes has completely flopped system. Lectures, quizzes, assignments are not going effectively due to internet issues. We have paid heavily for quality education. Our grades and practical learning is very important. Semester break is the only solution!”

Whether the trend is real or artificial, debate on the issue is certainly real. There are those who oppose the idea of online education and there are also proponents of the online learning particularly in the prevailing situation.

It is pertinent to mention here that as per March 13 meeting of the National Coordination Committee, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, all educational institutions, including schools, tuition centres, colleges and universities, are closed in the country till April 5.

On Thursday, the federal government announced that education institutions across Pakistan would remain closed till May 31. The government also announced that the closure would be treated as summer vacation and if coronavirus problem was resolved in the meanwhile, educational institutions would reopen in June.

“I’m really worried because of the closure and the lockdown and finding it really hard to spend time at home”, said Abdullah, a student of the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore. He said unlike many other universities the UET has yet to offer online education to its students. “I think the best way to continue the learning process and keep oneself busy is online education,” he added.

A faculty member of Government College University (GCU), which has also decided to switch to virtual teaching during the ongoing closure, said internet connectivity was indeed an issue in the far-flung areas. He said it was, therefore, the VC vowed the other day that the university would consider reimbursing at least the internet costs of those faculty members and students of remote areas who might need new connections for their online classes. He added the university had also decided to take extra measures to fulfil the remaining requirements of the courses after the closure.

It is pertinent to mention here that there are around 40 million students enrolled in public and private sector schools, colleges and universities of Pakistan. Of these, maximum i.e. 24 million students are enrolled in primary schools, 7.6 million in middle schools, 4 million and over 1.5 million at secondary and higher secondary levels, respectively.

The Punjab province alone has around 13 million students in government schools of Punjab alone. This shows that in terms of numbers the real affectees are particularly the schoolchildren and for majority of whom there is no online education facility during these closures across the country.

It is in this backdrop the government’s decision to keep the campuses open during summer vacation to utilise that time to fulfil the requirement of academic calendar and to cover academic loss of the students seems a right move.

Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood also tweeted that though campuses would remain closed till May 31, the educational authorities would continue to engage with students either through TV or online. He added Federal Education Ministry would launch a TV channel in early April with lessons for school students.