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July 7, 2020

‘Technology is a blessing, but expecting e-learning to succeed is absurd’

Karachi

July 7, 2020

During the present COVID-19 pandemic, a large segment of the private education sector has started online classes, for which parents have been told to make arrangements for desktops, laptops, internet, microphone, headphones and other communication accessories to connect their children to the educational institutions’ e-learning systems.

However, not all parents can make such arrangements, especially those who can hardly afford their children’s education at public schools or at low-fee private institutions. Likewise, students of degree colleges, universities and other degree-awarding institutions are also faced with a similar conundrum. Among their most common complaints are long hours of electricity load-shedding and lack of internet access, communication devices or proper studying space at home.

Educators and parents agree that without proper planning, shifting to e-learning is a fruitless attempt. “Both public and private education sectors have failed to come up with ways to make online or distance education effective,” said Dr Kamal Haider, dean of education at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science & Technology (Fuuast).

“Running an online education system is not rocket science, but in a country like Pakistan, majority of the parents can’t arrange three or four laptops for their children.”

Teachers of elite institutions may have the proper training to educate students online, said Dr Haider, but he estimated that more than 80 per cent of the schools recruit untrained teachers who don’t even have a certificate or diploma for educating their pupils on campus.

He said that most of them are having to deal with e-learning for the first time in their careers, adding that how can one expect them to educate children when they are reluctant and inexperienced.

“Private schools’ owners and administrators are just passing their time in the name of online education. Also, they intend to justify the hefty fees they collect from parents every month.” Dr Haider pointed out that holding a class of 25 to 30 students, especially when they’re attending it from home, is a very strenuous task for a teacher.

He said that sometimes students need face-to-face interaction to help them read, write and learn better, so how can untrained teachers working remotely understand their students’ needs.

Agreeing that recent technological advancements have been nothing short of blessings, he stressed that in a developing country like Pakistan — where people live in small houses in big cities, power load-shedding is a daily routine, child labour is at its peak and people can’t afford to send their children even to public schools — expecting e-learning to succeed is just absurd. “Online education is a great idea, but the question is: can it be equally applicable to parents who lack resources or are illiterate? The answer to this question is certainly in the negative.”

‘A headache’

A number of parents told The News that their children can’t pick up their lessons in just 30 minutes. They said the kids need their parents and elder siblings’ help. They also said the children can’t complete their homework and sometimes they can’t even ask proper questions.

Naghma Sheikh, whose three nephews attend online classes, said: “School administrators sometimes play recorded lectures, and the teachers don’t interact with every student. They don’t take any questions, and if they come online, they always try to complete the lesson target within the given time.”

Gul Muhammad Mamond, a journalist associated with a local daily, said: “Teachers just want to keep students busy and involved in their studies. This much can be achieved by educated parents themselves.” Lamenting about the state of affairs concerning online education, he said that the e-learning system has turned out to be nothing more than a headache for students, teachers and parents.