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Pakistani Education System Needs To Prepare Itself For New Normal

KARACHI: Pakistan education needs to take urgent steps to evolve its education infrastructure, after COVID-19 lockdown, says the founder of the leading International STEAM learning company. “The way education is moving from physical space to the virtual world, Pakistan has to prepare itself for the new normal,” says Omar Farooqui, founder and the president of Coded Minds. His company is one of the first few education companies in the country that is offering virtual STEAM learning courses in Pakistan during lockdown days.

“The country already has more than 44 percent of children out of school. With this new COVID-19 lockdown, the numbers will increase dramatically. Like in other parts of the world, the Education sector has to restart itself in Pakistan. And now technology will play a crucial role,” he emphasized.

Coded Minds, which officially started its operation in Feb 2020, has to change its operational strategy. “The lockdown has changed our plans upside down and we immediately moved to the virtual world of education rather than organizing any physical classes or education services. It was like a blessing in disguise,” he said adding that going virtual opens a completely new horizon for both students and educators. “The reach becomes unimaginable wider. Geographic limitation becomes irrelevant in virtual classes. However, conducting an online effective class is a completely different art or science as you wish to call for which both students and teachers are not ready.”

According to Farooqui, the major challenge to all education providers, whether public or private, in Pakistan is the lack of tech infrastructure in Pakistan. “Though government figures claim that 35 percent of the country’s population has 3G or 4G access, the independent statistics do not go beyond 15 percent. The truth is somewhere in between. However, regardless of the debate, the fact is-having a smartphone in hand does not mean that every corner of the country has technology infrastructure. A lot needs to be done.”

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The other challenge that Farooqui highlighted is the inability of teachers and academic managers to conduct classes virtually or to use technology. “Most of our classrooms in the country are still blackboard based where teachers do a monologue lecture, write points on the blackboard and students copy them and that’s it. In a situation where our average teachers lack basic teaching skills; giving them the technology to use as a tool would be a major task, especially in public schools and colleges.”

“We are hearing lots of stories that those universities in Pakistan who are opting for online education during quarantine, have not been able to grab students’ attention. Not just that, teachers are also finding it difficult to adapt,” he lamented.

Ahmed Taha, a business graduate student in a local private university in Karachi, says that it is so frustrating to attend even 40 minutes of the class online. “First the teacher has no clue how to use the basic software like Zoom. Half of the time is usually wasted in fixing teething issues. Internet quality is again a major challenge. And most importantly, the class is so boring, that many of us leave halfway through, using poor internet quality as an excuse,” he complained.

“If Pakistani academic institutions, both public and private won’t fix these issues, access to education would become difficult. Classrooms have gone beyond the four walls. If we won’t prepare ourselves for this ‘new normal,’ then we should be ready to lose more students from schools and colleges, which would not be acceptable at all,” remarked the edu-tech leader.

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