Online Classes: A Shot in the Dark

– Story by Ahmed Saeed.

Like much of the world, Pakistan too has also shut down all educational institutions to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.

At first, the federal government announced that all educational institutions across the country would remain closed till April 5th, but foreseeing that the situation will not be better by then, on March 26th the government extended the closure till May 31st.

The government also announced that the closure will be treated as summer vacations.

To save university students precious time and classes, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has allowed those varsities to co0nduct online classes, which have the facility of Learning Management System (LMS).

But many public and private universities, which neither have any LMS facility nor proper online teaching mechanism in place, have also started conducting online classes by using different chat application services like WhatsApp, Google hangout, etc.

Such universities did not consult their faculty members before the start of so-called online education. The varsities did not even ask their students whether they have internet available in their area or not.

The universities located in main urban hubs like Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar have failed to consider the fact that many of their students belong from suburban or rural areas of the country, where the internet has still not become a necessity of every household.

According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) statistics, only over 35 percent of Pakistan has the 3G/4G coverage while over 36 percent of the country has internet connectivity through broadband connections.

As the online classes progressed, students that are living in far-flung areas of the country started to complain with their instructors about the difficulties that they are facing in attending these online lectures. They told their teachers that they were having a hard time listening to them as the sound broke continuously due to an unstable internet connection.

As the number of complaints grew, the teachers told the students that they could not suspend online classes because they were being pressurized by universities’ administration to carry on with this practice of online education under any circumstances.

After being failed to listen by their teachers, many universities students took to social media and started sharing their concerns about this practice of online education.

A student from Gilgit Baltistan made a video in which he shared his experience. He said that he had to travel three or four kilometers from his home to a place where he could receive internet signals to take online classes. He said that even making this effort he was unable to grasp anything because he missed most of the lecture due to poor connectivity.

After some videos of the complaining students went viral, the federal minister of education took notice of them and instructed the HEC to address the concerns of students and rectify the situation.

Talking at Aaj TV’s show Spot Light, Mahmood said the HEC will ask all those universities to stop online education, which doesn’t have essential facilities to run such programs.

When Voicepk.net questioned HEC about the rising number of complaints about online classes, its spokesperson said that the commission was monitoring the situation and if a university is found to be lacking in capacity to deliver good quality online lectures, they will be directed to halt such lectures until the requisite conditions are met.

The spokesperson further said that HEC is in contact with university management to provide them the necessary assistance in the capacity building regarding the online education system so that there will be minimum academic disruption.