Pakistan, where physical classrooms and teachers’ monologues make the perfect picture of education, is finding it difficult to adopt virtual education. Even in urban pa rts of the country, where students are often addicted to the world-wide-web, are avoiding if not rejecting online education.
Why is that the case? The answer lies at various levels
Infrastructure – where is the backbone?
The government of Pakistan has declared technology development as one of its main priorities. However, the inability of Pakistani education structure to move to online platforms shows the gap between ambition and reality. This gap is most evident in the infrastructure available to the service provider as well as the end-user.
According to World Internet Statistics, only over 20 percent of the population in Pakistan has access to the Internet. This means about 80 percent are not connected to the Internet which forms the backbone of any kind online or virtual learning.
Metro cities such as Karachi have Internet connectivity but the quality remains a question mark. Students often complain about regular disconnections or poor Internet bandwidth, which hamper their classes and limit the progress of virtual learning programs.
Now think about small cities, towns, and villages, where online education may be a perfect solution against illiteracy but where the baseline infrastructure remains even worse. No educator, no matter how committed he or she is, cannot implement programs if there is little or no access to the Internet.
More importantly, it not just about the Internet. As we approach the summer months, the supply of electricity will also become an issue. So if a student and a teacher are engaged in a major discussion over an important part of the lesson and suddenly if there is a power cut, one can imagine the frustration both parties may have to go through.
So ensuring basic and adequate infrastructure is the pre-requisite to planning an alternative education system for our students.
The pedagogy skills
Let’s assume, we have the flawless infrastructure to support online learning but teachers aren’t trained enough to take online classes. The education system will remain stuck with the blackboard-based education, where the teachers aren’t generally required to upgrade their skills beyond monologues, lecture and notes.
The essence of pedagogy is very often missing irrespective of whether the teacher is a PhD, a degree holder or an undergraduate. What is also missing is the skill required to embrace technology as a vehicle to transform knowledge. It is hard to believe but the reality is a very large number of the teachers do not have basic technology literacy and skills.
The inability of teachers to conduct online classes has also contributed toward the failure of online education patterns. They simply don’t know how to engage with the student who is miles away but actually connected through the world-wide-web.
The out-dated curriculum
If the teachers need re-skilling, then, on the other hand, course plans, from nursery to post-graduate course plans, should all be integrated with the virtual learning dynamics.
Methods that worked in 40-minute class lectures need to be transformed in a way that students find joy in learning, engage and keep them on their toes. As they say in academic circles: “you no longer teach, you have to show”.
Virtual classes make geographic limitations irrelevant. It opens a completely new horizon for both students and educators. The reach becomes unimaginably wider. However, conducting an online class effectively requires a completely different skillset. It has almost become an art form for which both students and teachers are not equipped in Pakistan.
The country already has more than 44 percent of children out of school. With the COVID-19 lockdown, the numbers are likely to increase dramatically. It is time to act now and not wait for further deterioration.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the pitiable state of the health system in many countries. It has also been a major reality check for the education system. It has only proved that the education sector has to restart in Pakistan and online learning will have to be at its core.
Classrooms have moved beyond its four walls. If we don’t prepare ourselves for this “new normal”, we should be ready to lose more students from schools and colleges.