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Online education in Pakistan during COVID-19; A solution or problem?

COVID-19 has led to the largest interruption of education ever. The worldwide closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic is exceptional, affecting more than 1.5 billion children, according to a United Nations policy brief. Over 300,000 schools have been closed due to the corona pandemic in Pakistan, BBC reported. Students of gentry schools can continue their learning through different digital platforms and applications but for millions of other students, these facilities are out of reach. In Pakistan, Only a small fraction have internet access.

According to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, only one million school-age children have access to digital devices and bandwidth. However, about 40 million children have access to television. Therefore, Officials come up with the idea of tele school to overcome the learning gap. This tele school was launched on 13 April which runs on state-owned PTV Home. It is programmed with content for kindergarten to high school and students have to watch their curriculum in shifts. Pakistan’s education minister, Shafqat Mehmood said, “We believe it has been very successful but it doesn’t replace the classroom.”

Officials admitted that the channel was not accessible to the poor families so they are trying to develop an educational radio program. “We’re also now working towards starting a radio school so that we can have some remote areas accessed,” Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood told BBC in an interview.

Similar difficulties are being faced by higher academia in Pakistan. COVID-19 has a great impact on higher education in Pakistan due to the closure of universities. Unlike in developed countries, we do not have many facilities or highly qualified IT experts but following the steps of developed countries, Pakistan opted for online education for universities during their closure.

It doesn’t seem to be as effective as in developed countries due to many factors such as; Remote location of students, Unavailability of proper online teaching module/syllabus, and technical difficulties. Many questions such as whether we are not compromising the quality of higher education due to online teaching? What about the students who do not have a laptop and internet facilities? How is it possible to teach practical courses? Are unanswerable to date. Undoubtedly, we are still lacking far behind the arena of research in comparison to international levels; online teaching will further deteriorate the higher education of Pakistan.

Over 50 million schools and universities going Pakistanis now risk falling behind, says Umbreen Arif, a top education advisor for Pakistan’s central government. Therefore, blindly following the western world is not the solution to our educational problems. Universities are in a transition phase from face-to-face interaction to online teaching methodology and all this shifting requires a lot of virtual training both for the students and teachers. Many faculty members and students are not well aware of technology under such circumstances online education tend to become a headache for them despite facilitating them.

Besides it also becomes a psychological problem for the students who have gone to their homes in hope of returning soon. Even though all those universities which are technologically advanced but opted online teaching may have drawbacks as well. These drawbacks are making distance learning complicated. The situation is more critical in Pakistan because of the less virtually trained faculty and students.

Also, unavailability of internet and electricity to a large number of students. Not to forget many degree programs cannot be taught online. University faculty should be given proper virtual training to overcome these issues. Moreover, we need constant attention from educationalists and policymakers because online education will affect the quality of Pakistani education.

The role of government is the key to disrupting the impact of  COVID-19 on education delivery in Pakistan. As Pakistan’s education minister Shafqat Mehmood said in a press conference “The target is, God willing, coronavirus is over soon, but we are not going to stop there, we feel that using technology for education is the way forward in Pakistan.”

The blog has been jointly written by Sadia Masood, Amina Basheer and Summiya Batool. They are the students of MS  Industrial Biotechnology at National University of Sciences and Technology(NUST) Islamabad and can be reached at sadiam765@gmail.com

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