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Citizen Voices Coronavirus Education Governance

Why We Must Adapt To The Inevitable Shift To Online Education

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Online education and learning is not new but it became a necessity in order to cope with the new challenge of Covid-19. Pakistani youth appear skeptical to this mode of learning. The outbreak of Covid-19 brought a big shift in educational institutions throughout the world. Western universities, especially where the weather is very cold, were offering online education. Even Pakistan is not an exception, where we have the Virtual University (VU) that offered a wide range of online courses. Allama Iqbal Open University offers distance learning. Meanwhile, private and a few public sector universities/schools opted for this mode of teaching. Perhaps it is early to conclude but the online system could replace classroom learning as per microbiologists’ research and interpretations of the emerging pandemic in future. Even if one does not buy this kind of argument, we cannot escape from the natural catastrophes to come. Coronavirus may be an early warning for preparedness. It seems essential to get ready for alternative modes of imparting instruction, rather than the traditional classroom.

The online system is not only easy but cost effective. It is also youth-friendly. A young person may opt for online teaching easily as compared to an elder person. However, for this online teaching adaptability, one must be clear about the need for it in the first place. It is pertinent to mention that online teaching is more difficult for a teacher as compared to a student. A teacher must study, be ready for recording, facing technologies, creating adaptability and making clear argumentation. The teachers may be more vulnerable to criticism as compared to the student. They would have to prepare quizzes, questions, assignments and then be liable to present all the records to the university administration and to the public at large if posted online.

As for students, they have to arrange for an internet device for connectivity, a laptop/computer or even their own cellular phone. They plug in, connect and listen to the teacher. They do not have to commute from one part of the city to another on a daily basis or get a hostel and have to afford huge expenses for lodging or traveling. Students can save time. On top of this, they have freedom to chose at what time they want to watch or listen to the online lecturer if recorded. This liberty is limited for a teacher. Once the students get accustomed to the system, it can work better for everyone involved in the didactic process.

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Transparency in teaching as well as examination is another quality indicator in online teaching. It has been observed in Pakistan that teachers were criticized for ill treatment, prejudice, favoritism and even harassment. On-campus violence is another evil that jeopardized the academic culture of Pakistan. Thus, the online system can reduce many of these aspects. It can also help reduce students’ dependency on teachers, improving their ability for self-study under guidance.

However, it has been noticed that there is resistance against online teaching in Pakistan. Students argue that they are paying for classroom education. But the fact remains that the Government of Pakistan is paying salary and pensions to university staffers while hardly any campus can take the risk of opening up at this stage in the pandemic. Laboratories are closed, centers of excellence are shut down and departments are locked down due to the pandemic. Yet many of the world’s finest institutions and research centres are not closed. They are working online and engaged in research and teaching. Meanwhile, Pakistani universities are waiting for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines to hit the market from abroad. Students and staffers alike remain resistant to the move to online teaching.

To make it workable, the government would have to invest in online teaching and smart learning as a priority: especially high-speed internet and provision of sophisticated teaching technology. At the very least, we should all be able to agree on the need for moving to a smart classroom at short notice in case of future disasters and pandemics.

The Coronavirus pandemic has not only reshaped society, culture and lifestyle but also opened up new vistas of opportunity. Online teaching could be a blessing to meet the challenges of the future. Pakistani youth must realize and adapt to an online system of education to meet this century’s challenges. Whether we like it or not, smart classrooms are the current of the future.

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The writer is Chairman at the Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. He can be reached: [email protected]

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