Students and teachers at crossroads over online education in Pakistan

The current pandemic has brought Pakistan at a crossroads of making difficult decisions, and like other institutions, the education department is no exception, having to shift to technology-based learning — something which is not easy for a developing country.

Following the Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) directives, educational institutes across the country are trying to deal with the crisis at hand; however, many students seem unsatisfied with the way they are being provided with education online by their institutes.

Last week, ‘#WeRejectOnlineEducation’ popped up as one of the top trends in Pakistan on Twitter.

‘We are overburdened’
A Karachi University student told, their online class was suspended after many students — majority hailing from the middle and lower-middle classes — were not able to attend the classes as they faced connectivity issues or did not have smartphones.

Another student at a private university in Karachi said their teachers “were not able to reach out to the students as they do, physically, in the classroom. He added that the students were accustomed to the classroom environment and it was not easy for them to shift to online classes so quickly.

“We are being overburdened with assignments and are unable to take practical classes due to the pandemic. The teachers are giving us tons of assignments which are practically impossible to do at the given deadlines — as they [teachers] are trying to fill in the gaps, caused by the coronavirus,” a student at another private university in Karachi said.

“I cannot understand what my teacher teaches me online, they cannot explain themselves clearly,” an O-level student at a private school said.

‘Quick transition not easy’
In a country like Pakistan shifting to online education is not that easy.

“Pakistan is not a tech-savvy country which is one of the major reasons we are having problems in the education sector after the pandemic caused a countrywide shutdown,” Noman Ansari, a senior lecturer at Riphah International University, Islamabad said.

“Sooner or later, despite all the adversities, we will have to move some segments of our education towards virtual learning and coronavirus has given us that opportunity,” he noted.

“The biggest problem at hand is that teachers have no idea of how to deliver and students are not capable of comprehending it, as we had to shift our mode of teaching hurriedly,” he said, adding, “Quick transition is not easy, especially in Pakistan as the country is not technologically advanced.”

“Students are not used to of using their cognitive abilities to cope with the problems,” he said. “They are also trying to deviate from these classes and making excuses to halt them as for those who pay a semester fee of 90k-to 60k, buying average equipment or at least a smartphone is not much of a hassle.”

Muneeb-ul-Hasan a lecturer at a private institute — teaching undergraduate students — said, “I provide students with recordings, PDF books, and give them assignments. So far, the response has been good because the students can hear my lectures just like songs on their playlist.”

Yaseem Alam an O-level’s teacher at a private school in Karachi tells us that he has received positive feedback from the students. That these classes were helping him in keeping the topic short, precise, and to the point, which is beneficial for both parties.

Meanwhile, Shahida, a government school teacher said they had finished the school year. Were preparing to conduct examinations but were unable to do so due to the school closure orders.

The federal government, in late March, had announced that education institutions. Across Pakistan would remain closed till May 31 after cases of the coronavirus started surging in the country.

‘Introduce schemes for students’
Alishbah Sijal, a student at Karachi University, told that online classes should take place as we need to shift towards virtual learning sooner or later. “The better way for teachers and educational institutions is to record lectures rather than giving them in real-time. This way we can cope with the hindrances and the students can easily access lectures even on a slow internet connection,” she said.

She added, “Laptop schemes at university and college levels should be reintroduced so that in future. Such a gap does not come in between classes and every pupil would have the required equipment to access the class.”

“A subsidised internet package should be introduced for students. So that they can easily get high-speed internet to help them in their online study,” Sijal added.

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