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April 3, 2020

Call to prepare for evolving education dynamics


April 3, 2020

Islamabad : Pakistan has to prepare itself to match up with the evolving education dynamics in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, says the founder of the leading international STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) learning company.

“The way education is moving from physical space to the virtual world, Pakistan has to prepare itself for the new normal,” Coded Minds founder and president Omar Farooqui told ‘The News’.

The company is one of the first few offering virtual STEAM courses in the country during the shutdown days.

Omar Farooqui said the country already had more than 44 percent of children out of school and the COVID-19 lockdown would drastically increase the number.

“Like in other parts of the world, the education sector has to restart itself in Pakistan. And now technology will play a crucial role,” he said.

According to him, Coded Minds, which began operation in Feb 2020, has to change its operational strategy.

“The shutdown has changed our plans upside down and we have immediately moved to the virtual world of education rather than organizing any physical classes or education services. It was like a blessing in disguise,” he said.

Omar Farooqui said going virtual opened a completely new horizon for both students and educators.

“The reach becomes unimaginable wider. Geographic limitation becomes irrelevant in virtual classes. However, conducting an online effective class is a completely different art or science as you wish to call for which both students and teachers are not ready,” he said.

According to the Coded Minds head, the major challenge to all education providers whether public or private in Pakistan is the lack of tech infrastructure in Pakistan.

“Though the government figures claim that 35 per cent of the country’s population have 3G or 4G access, the independent statistics do not go beyond 15 per cent. The truth is somewhere in between. However, regardless of the debate, the fact is-having a smartphone in hand does not mean that every corner of the country has technology infrastructure. A lot needs to be done,” he said.

For Omar Farooqui, the other challenge is the inability of teachers and academic managers to conduct classes virtually or to use technology.

“Most of our classrooms in the country are still blackboard based where teachers do a monologue lecture, write points on the blackboard and students copy them and that’s it. In a situation where our average teachers, lack basic teaching skills; giving them the technology to use as a tool would be a major task, especially in public schools and colleges,” he said.

“We are hearing lots of stories that those universities in Pakistan who are opting for online education during quarantine, have not been able to grab students' attention. Not just that, teachers are also finding difficult to adapt,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Taha, a business student in a private university, said it was so frustrating to attend even 40 minutes of the class online.

“First the teacher has no clue how to use the basic software like Zoom. Half of the time usually go to waste in fixing teething issues. Internet quality is again a major challenge. And most importantly, the class is so boring, that many of us, leave halfway through, using poor internet quality as an excuse,” he said.

The ed-tech leader said if Pakistani academic institutions both public and private won’t fix those issues, then things would be very difficult in giving access to education.

“Classrooms have gone beyond the four walls. If we won't prepare ourselves for this new normal, then we should be ready to lose more students from schools and colleges, which is not acceptable at all,” he said.