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Will online classes succeed?

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By: Sadam Sagar

COVID-19 has put the whole world into test by halting all businesses. At the same time, all sectors are pushing for survival. Obviously, stopping business cycle completely, locking up institutions and disruption of routine life is a difficult task.  

But, in this pervasive situation, governments around the world should avoid problems and realize the value of time. Adopting social distance, Smart Lockdown, Herd Immunity, Online Activities, and other possible ways, the world has, to some extent, controlled the situation.

In the current scenario, when the world is prioritizing “Work from Home”, home-based education is considered a viable option. In such a turbulent situation, for educational institution the only option left is to go online. Keeping in view the situation created by the Corona epidemic in Pakistan, the Higher Education Commission has ordered all the universities to start classes online. Classes have also been started by different universities but the HEC’s mandate has been criticized by students, parents & others, which is legitimate and justified.

Currently, Universities around the world are facing difficult conditions to discharge their responsibilities properly, so have we to evaluate the value of time and must understand that these conditions are not common including the whole world getting hit hard.

Women Democratic Front member Laila Riaz expressed that “Online classes in a country like ours are more an inconvenience for the students than a convenient and progressive way to keep up with their education. Main cause of this inconvenience is the lack of availability of infrastructure needed to conduct virtual or distant learning.

Students from remote regions where hardly even basic necessities as electricity or telecommunications setup aren’t available are being asked to appear for virtual learning at any cost while students in urban areas of the country are facing incessant electricity outages and lack of infrastructure to support virtual learning’s while many cannot afford to setup an internet connection with ample bandwidths, or have a device, keep it recharged, have a laptop or an android phone even to support the learning.

Resultantly, as of today, many haven’t attended a single class in four months while some had to climb mountains and trees to get connection and then there are students who are frustrated over constant pressure from educational institution to appear for exams and classes while all this, is happening also, without adequate trainings for both faculty and students”.

She further said, “It’s pointless to continue with online classes the way they’re being conducted. Unless concerns of students, the actual stakeholders in this process aren’t taken into account and dealt with, these online classes will merely serve as a tool for neoliberal model of education to mint money from students or to further distance the students from education. The state, its policies are in direct contradiction with the benefit students and expansion of education countrywide during Covid-19”.

It’s reality that, online classes are not an alternative to face to face teaching process; however, it’s a way to go through certain conditions. How can students take classes online? Which types of problems can students face? Which tools are required to take classes? Two to three things are important. Laptop, Computer or Smart Android Mobile, and fast internet connections are the important tools for taking online classes.

According to a joint report by UNESCO and the International Telecommunication Union, 826 million (more than 82 million) students out of 1.6 billion students around the world do not have a computer and 706 million (more than seventy million) Internet access at home. In view of this serious situation globally, UNESCO has also expressed reservations about online classes.

Concerns and objections regarding online classes are not only for Pakistani students, but also for students from African countries, where 89% of households do not have computer or laptop, 82% of households do not have internet.

The decree of Higher Education Commission to start online classes can be good news especially for those students who live in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore. On the other hand, it’s a big problem for students who belong to Tharparkar, Mastung, Turbat, Panjgor, Dera Bugti, where Internet services are a dream come true.

 In the war-torn areas like Turbat & other areas of Balochistan, where internet services are not available, students cannot take online classes. Most of Tharparkar students are also complaining that they don’t have internet services. Tharparkar is a backward area where poor students may have to worry about buying pens and books affording internet packages, worth hundreds of rupees, is a far cry!

Secondly, a place where uninterrupted electricity remains available only for 4 hours a day, and for a phone call, people keep searching singles throughout the area, taking classes online will be equal to naught for students. The question of lack of facilities exists on its place. However, our teachers & students are also unaware of using online gadgets.  Most of the teachers cannot open or operate a smart phone. Thus, to have successful online classes, all relevant resources and accessibility to high-speed internet should be available to all students.

The writer is student of English Literature & a working journalist based in Mithi, Tharparkar.

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