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Why online classes are essential

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Technology and education are interdependent and inseparable. Both go hand in hand and, at the same time, are in the race with each other. Technology has revolutionized the processes of education. It has made learning easy, economical, and accessible to all and sundry. Unfortunately, the digitalization of education has not given due consideration in Pakistan. But the current pandemic may prove a blessing in disguise for the education sector. The outbreak has forced people to stay at home and halted classes. Consequently, institutions across the world tightened the belt for online courses.
To keep pace with the world, HEC initially ordered the universities to go online. Later on, she halted the online classes due to frequent complaints of the students and evident lack of capacities to go online. Pakistan lacks advanced technology and infrastructure, a prerequisite for online learning. Many universities across the world have also announced to go online for the next 18 months. Without any doubt, Pakistani universities will face daunting challenges, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop moving in this direction. We must start from somewhere.
The advantages of online classes are undeniable. Many universities across the globe, including prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge universities, have been this method of teaching for a long time due to its expanding scope. Here some benefits of online classes.
First and the foremost advantage is that it is economically affordable, it reduces the cost. Taking class at home means that one has to pay just tuition fees, maybe charge books supply and fee for online application. Moreover, you don’t need to go thousands of miles away from your home and pay for housing and many other expenses. Isn’t it an excellent idea to bypass such costs and learn everything at home. If it becomes a reality, many needy students will be able to get access to high standard universes like QAU and NUST on affordable fees.
The second advantage is its Formidable Flexibility. Online classes have great flexibility in the schedule and environment for the students. Students can arrange the setting of their own choice, suitable for them, and there would be no worry about missing class in stormy weather or snowing outside. One can even attend class sitting in the cafeteria. Moreover, one can attend class sitting thousands of miles away from a teacher.
The third one is that thousands of students can take classes simultaneously. Interestingly, a teacher would have been able to educate many students across the country at the same time, just like many CSS academies have been providing this facility to their students, which is not possible in the traditional way of teaching. For instance, world top universities like Harvard and MIT using the platform EdX to educate millions of people around the globe. Sandford online is another such platform. In the same way, Coursera is an American online learning platform that gives unlimited access to 3000+ courses.
Fourth one is to continue in your profession: Online classes don’t force someone to leave his/her job during the degree. In this way, it enables students to keep working and pursue academic study.
Along with the abovementioned benefits, online classes pose daunting challenges as well. For a country like Pakistan, where online learning has not established its feet, it is a herculean task to take a fresh start. The following are the challenges that will be experienced.
The first challenge is access to high-speed Internet, especially in far-flung areas. Many of the students belong to distant regions of the country where internet access is negligible, let alone technology. For instance, when the universities started electronic learning, the first issue they face was internet connectivity. I contacted many students of my students from this perspective. They said that internet bandwidth and the slowdown of the speed is the core issue. In addition to this, lockdown and social distancing exacerbated the problem because internet consumption skyrocketed. Though the matter is resolvable, it will take time and need resources. The government must ramp up efforts to resolve the internet problem as soon as possible.
Likewise, the proper use of technology would be another hurdle because students and teachers have no prior experience and adequate training about e-learning. For instance, many teachers have not even used Zoom and Microsoft team software. Lack of experience will be a severe predicament both for the students and teachers. They must be trained and given some knowhow of these softwares by organizing various e-workshops and training sessions.
Unfortunately, our universities have insufficient infrastructure and training material for distant learnings. However, the Higher Education Commission has warned that the quality of education shouldn’t suffer at any cost. Nevertheless, digitally advanced universities have been allowed to start online courses as soon as they are ready. So, the government must issue funds to avail of the resources.
Student engagement in electronic learning has been a pressing challenge, even for the world’s top universities. An online instructor cannot gauge the mood, involvement, and engagement level of his/her students the way he/she can in a traditional lecture-based classroom. How to deal with this problem is a big question. It would be a significant issue, especially for inexperienced teachers.
The time is short, but troubles are massive. In Pakistan, most educators aren’t expertly trained to handle the technical details of an online class, and therefore students are complaining hard. We cannot train teachers in a short time, so improving the standard of online learning without compromise on the measure would be a laborious task.
Another massive challenge would be ‘effective learning,’ the principal objective of education as there is no physical presence of students and teachers in an e-class. Likewise, there is no face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, and there will be no mechanism for assessing the class environment on the spot. One of the most important and useful things I have experienced during teaching is face-to-face interaction with students, listening to their queries, and answering those questions. Moreover, class participation, another crucial element for learning, would be a bit difficult to achieve in electronic classes. Students may sometimes get frustrated due to lack of human contact, absence of the teacher, and an inability to discuss it with classmates.
Sometimes online world, no matter how enriching it may be, can become too small for students, and they may need a physical space where they can resolve their queries and practice with the real tools.
HEC must research to find ways and means of enhancing learning capabilities. Also, HEC should get technical assistance from foreign universities that have vast experience in this perspective to improve class engagement and to this end, three specialized committees have been established to help arrange IT facilities, software, tech support, and curate substantive online content.
Fortunately, universities have provided free access to Microsoft Teams to facilitate meetings and discussions. HEC and Microsoft have been working together to ensure the smooth introduction of this platform. Although we are working on arbitrary measures to shield the education against COVID- 19 shocks, the pandemic will prove a blessing in disguise for the education system as a whole.
In a nutshell, online teaching is, by any means, beneficial. It is high time that the government should invest in the education sector and provide meaningful assistance to the universities. The situation of the pandemic is unpredictable. It may extend beyond 21 May, HEC final deadline. While this fact can’t be denied that she is in a tight corner, but this crisis can be turned into an opportunity. We must take a start from somewhere, no matter how massive the challenges are.