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June 6, 2020

Student protests

Editorial

 
June 6, 2020

As students have started protesting in front of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Islamabad, the problems they are facing have once again come to the fore. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country nearly three months back, among other sectors education too had to face a major challenge in Pakistan. The HEC sprang into action almost immediately and as institutes of higher education had to shut down, a proposal to launch online classes was floated. Most private universities that charge exorbitant fees were able to modify their IT infrastructure and started teaching online. Though apparently it was the best option, it has its flip side too. Students living in major cities and having broadband internet connections were able to utilize this opportunity, but those in smaller towns and with slow (or none) internet services were unable to do so. This sparked resentment and prompted students to voice their concerns.

Another aspect of this online education was the inability of most public-sector universities to keep pace with the private ones. As the HEC had already reduced their development budgets during the past two years, public-sector universities and colleges were unable to upgrade their IT facilities. Moreover, the students in these universities are obviously not as financially privileged as those studying in private universities, notwithstanding their capacity to learn and prove their talents. Now, the spring semesters that were already in progress in March when the lockdown started are coming to an end. Though the HEC has already sent online exam options to universities, many private ones are insisting that all students appear for online written exams. This students consider, and rightly so, will result in an unfair treatment to students not living in major cities. Students are also demanding that the exams be canceled.

Since the quality of online classes has been below par, the insistence on written exams by some universities is mind-boggling. Students all over the country have been voicing their concerns through social media. Then, there are many students who were also working part-time and now have been rendered jobless because of business closures. These students are demanding a fee waiver, which should be granted to them by all universities. If a complete waiver is not possible, at least a partial reduction in fees and allowance to submit in installment must be given keeping in mind the extraordinary hardships many students are facing.