No, Online Education Is Not A Workable Solution In Pakistan
Salman Sikandar argues that the Higher Education Commission’s proposal to launch online classes following the closure of educational institutions due to the coronavirus outbreak is unrealistic and unfair because it does not take into account a significant percentage of students who do not have access to the internet.
Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. Apart from its havoc on thousands of innocent human beings, it has exposed the neo liberal capitalist system like never before. The crisis has made people realise that the emperor is naked. They couldn’t see the contradictions inherent in system so vividly, but now the realisation that a good public health care system is more important than missiles and tanks has struck the ordinary people like never before.
Among other such realisations that dawned upon people is the need for spending on education sector.
All educational institutions were closed down by the government as a preemptive measure in fears of the pandemic. Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) came up with the solution of ‘Online Classes’ for students so that their time is not wasted. The idea seems pretty amazing from surface and to the people who are unaware of the ground realities of our country.
The Crisis of Education
We live in a country where only thirty six percent of population have access to the internet. Even in that number, most of the peripheral and rural areas have access to only 2G. On the other hand, working class students cannot afford the gadgets and internet especially in the time of Covid-19 when they are already living from hand to mouth.
Let’s not forget that even the students who have no hindrance in taking these classes experience difficulty in grasping any concepts because of lack of training to communicate through such means on the part of teachers and students. When we look at the idea of online classes in this context, it naturally looks absurd , unethical and doubly exclusionary. This idea further alienates and excludes the students belonging to working class and peripheral areas who have already been excluded from the education process.
Our education system has reached a point where it naturally excludes a major part of total population.Youth makes almost sixty percent of our country’s total population but less than ten percent study in universities. The reason behind these numbers is the lack of educational institutions in the peripheries and ever growing expenditures of education.
Most recently, we witnessed the austerity policy striking a deadly blow to education sector. The government which came with the promise of increasing the education budget cut the budget of education by fifty percent. This event marked the drastic fee increase in public sector universities and a major cut on already less scholarships.
As an effort to cope with the needs of university, students were literally being treated as money-making machines. Evening programme of GCU Lahore is a small example which charged students with sixty thousand fees without offering Library, bus service or hostel to the students. So, working class is literally barred from taking part in the process of education as it cannot afford it. The crisis of Covid-19 has only uncovered the process of exclusion which has long been prevalent in the country.
Profits over Education
Covid-19 has also exposed the underlying greed for profits in the name of education in private sector universities. Students in FCCU, University of Central Punjab, UMT, NUML, Superior University, Comsats and other private universities are protesting against the plundering by the administration in these horrible times.
These private sector universities are forcing students to take online classes for the ongoing semester. These online classes, apart from their exclusion and incapability in the learning process, help universities in making much more profits than the normal days as no university resources are used in these classes. Students and teachers use their own gadgets and internet so these universities are literally charging students for doing nothing at all. It has uncovered the fact that the only priority for private universities is profit making and not the education of students.
Call for Boycott
Progressive Students’ Collective has urged the students of public and private sector universities to boycott the doubly exclusionary Online Classes. Some universities have called off these classes after the students announced boycott, but in other institutions the boycotting students are awaiting a decision from the announcement towards addressing their strong grievance.
Private sector students are also demanding the universities to waive off their fees if the online classes are not cancelled.
After the Crisis
After the crisis of Covid-19 is over, students must radically imagine a new future. Where this crisis has exposed the doubly exclusionary nature of our education system, it has also manifested the necessity of free and inclusive education for all.
Further, it has highlighted the wrecked situation of education system and shown the dire need of student unions to save the education system. It has shown that private universities are money making machines, but it also tells us that students can come together for their rights without being violent.
It has made us realise that internet, despite being a basic right, is not accessible for a major part of this country. As a matter of fact, students understand that online classes are not much of a problem in themselves but the problem lies in the fact that a large number of people are deprived of internet.
The solidarity shown by students in this campaign against excluding online classes is unprecedented but the important thing is that students must continue this solidarity after the crisis for student unions, free education, free internet for all and against profit making in the name of education.
Covid-19 has exposed the many loopholes of our education system and the urgency to reform it.