Stalled systems

March 28, 2021

It has been a year since the dependency on online education began

In March 2020, more than 300,000 educational institutions were closed, partially or completely, across Pakistan due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This intervention led to a bewildering array of emotions experienced by the students. On April 14, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) asked colleges and universities to prepare to transition to online classes and online interactions as quickly as possible. In order to restart the stalled education systems in the country online learning was deemed necessary.

It has been a year since the dependency on online education began. A large number of issues have since been identified. Of these some have been dealt with and some are still pending. School examinations, external examinations and standarised tests for college admissions were either delayed or cancelled. In May 2020, Cambridge International Examinations delayed its examinations till October. This affected the college admissions of thousands of students. Standarised tests such as the SAT and the ACT were delayed or cancelled. This too affected college admissions and disrupted the students’ progress.

Online classes were a new concept, not only for students but for faculty as well. Asia, a middle school teacher in Lahore, complains that while teaching her online classes she was never sure “if the children were listening and understanding what I was saying”. Faculty members have had to learn to operate platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom. Uploading of assignments, conduct of the lecture, coming up with productive schedules and preparing online examination was a new challenge for faculty members.

Online education has been an ordeal for low-income families. The pandemic halted businesses and thousands of people lost their jobs. Availability of a computer and internet facility is a necessity for online classes but a burden on low-income families. Such families were dependent on public school systems, not just for the education, but in some cases also for the meals they would provide to their children. Hundreds of students had to go back to their villages in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan where they were unable to attend online classes due to a lack of internet facilities in the region. Many students from Neelam Valley, Dhirkot and Haveli demanded that the HEC and the Ministry of Education provide them with a better internet coverage.

After restarting the education system, parents, students and faculty members have been facing new challenges every day.

Poor Internet services remain a problem in remote areas in the north and south of Pakistan. This has led to a digital divide in the country which is a gap due to inequality in the access of technological facilities. Pakistan was clearly not ready for the transition. It’s imperative that the government makes internet facilities accessible to areas that lack it.

The pandemic took a toll on thousands of students. Given the physical absence of teachers, some students had difficulty focusing on the lectures. Being in interactive classes - sitting at home and staring at a screen – many found it difficult to fully participate in the discussions.

Ayesha Affaq, a medical student in Lahore told TNS, “most students prefer to log into classes and sleep instead of actively listening. The discipline which is maintained in a classroom due to consequences and accountability to the administration is absent at home”. She says attitudes towards education had become casual. Tayyab, a student at a college on Jail Road, Lahore, said, “When exams and tests are being carried out online, some students resort to cheating and file sharing. Faculty members later started exam proctoring to prevent cheating but some students then raised violation-of-privacy concerns.” According to Tayyab, this impacted the results of students on their brief return to campuses after September 15.

The impact the pandemic had on special-needs children, who were highly dependent on in-person classes, has been massive. Students who suffer from various physical imparities require in-person instructions since their education depends on ‘feeling’ objects to recognise them. Autistic children are taught in a calm and peaceful manner at schools. The change in their learning process made it difficult for caregivers and parents to help them focus on their lessons. Students, parents and faculty have faced new challenges every day since restarting the education system. A year on, the education system is still adapting itself to the circumstances.

The writer is a student at the    University College of Dentistry in Lahore

Stalled systems