COVID-19 and online education

The Global pandemic, COVID-19, which emerged during the last months of 2019 impacted almost every field of life. A major health crisis emerged which required immediate and swift action. Restrictions and lockdowns were applied and almost all types of public gatherings were banned. It also had a major impact on education and all educational activities. Due to the ban on public gatherings, the traditional educational arrangement could not proceed as it was susceptible to external influences.
For the continuity of educational activities, traditional education was replaced by online education. It meant for the use of technology for the continuity of education and the replacement of online classrooms with in-person classrooms. It was an alternative arrangement and both students and teachers were unfamiliar with it. And, to keep up with the new requirements almost all educational institutions underwent a digital transformation. Since then, online education has been the new normal.
Online education during COVID-19 involved certain merits and demerits. For example, online education kept students busy and saved their educational years by providing them with the opportunity to continue their studies without interruption. It also ensured the safety of students as they could take classes at home without being in contact with anyone else. It was exactly in line with the directions of the World Health Organisation which asked for minimum gathering and maximum stay at home. Other than that, it made students familiar with the use of technology and provided a new learning environment.
Although it cannot be compared with a traditional educational environment where teachers and students both contribute by interacting and sharing ideas, it still provides a learning environment that is useful and productive. More importantly, online education maintained a healthy and productive atmosphere that kept students and teachers active and gave them the courage and strength to fight the pandemic and defeat it.
However, on the contrary, it involved certain problems as well. For example, online education involves the use of the internet. A stable internet connection is a prerequisite for online learning. But unfortunately, not all students have proper internet connections. They do not have at all or if they do have the access is limited.
Consider the example of Mureed Abbas, who is a student of the University of the Punjab. He lives in a remote village near Attock. He has to travel for 20 minutes to get access to the internet. And, to continue his online learning he has been dealing with this problem throughout the pandemic. And, there are scores of students who have been dealing with similar problems.
Online classes also consume a large amount of data. So, a large amount of data is required for uninterrupted learning. Therefore, to continue the educational activities the students have to pay hefty amounts to the service providers. Here, it is pertinent to mention that the COVID-19 has adversely affected the economic conditions of the people. For example, according to a survey by IPSOS, every 6 in 10 Pakistanis suffered a reduction in their income because of the virus. Hence, it has been difficult for parents and students to deal with the situation because of high expenses. The other problem is that with a strong Internet connection a mobile or computer is needed. But not all students have this facility. Many students face problems because of their humble background.
Moreover, the most important of all is that there is a huge difference between an in-person classroom atmosphere and an online classroom atmosphere. In-person classrooms provide an opportunity for students to interact with teachers and other students. This interaction makes a classroom productive. A classroom is a place where students learn and are trained by teachers. They are not only trained academically but they are also trained to be responsible individuals of the society. Their moral and ethical development takes place in a classroom.
For example in the Quran, The Almighty has described the aim of the prophecy of the Holy Prophet (SAAW) as to educate and train humankind [62:2]. Similarly, in NahjulBalagha – the peak of eloquence, Hazrat Ali (A.S) emphasized education along with training (Saying 338). This can only happen in an atmosphere where teachers and students are present physically. Online education, because of its virtual nature, lacked productivity and training in this regard.
Also, the non-serious attitudes of some students cause problems for teachers and other students. As it is difficult to identify and advise them, therefore, this problem persisted throughout the pandemic. Moreover, in online education it has been difficult for a teacher to maintain discipline and keep all students intact at the same time because of three reasons:a) both teacher and students are not physically present;b) the continuous trouble with the internet connection of some students; and c) irresponsible attitude of some students.
Furthermore, evaluation is an important part of education. Without proper evaluation, the quality of education is compromised. Traditional education gives a proper opportunity for evaluation. However, in online education, a proper evaluation system has been a concern of late. Although efforts were made and exams were conducted online, it could not compete with the traditional examination pattern.
Despite all this, the important aspect is that it has given a message to the world that even though the resources were limited, education has continued in Pakistan without interruption. It has also given courage to people to deal with any unfamiliar or unexpected situation.
Now, the situation is getting better with the administration of vaccines and the number of cases reducing day by day. The educational institutes have started to reopen. But Pakistan must not abandon online education completely as it has been a valuable alternative and an efficient way of imparting knowledge.
Although online education is considered as an alternative to traditional coaching, it is something that the government should invest in future. It should be considered as a clear alternative because the COVID-19 has shown that traditional education is prone to external influences.
Lastly, the government should spend on making the infrastructure better and ensure the provision of internet facilities all over Pakistan including villages and remote areas. And, all educational institutions should arrange proper training for students and teachers to make them familiar with the use of technology and the E-learning environment.

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