As the cataclysmic emergence of Covid-19 has affected everything else, it has also impacted the academic pursuits. The academic calendar remains disrupted throughout the world. At this stage, institutions and authorities are trying to minimise the damage caused by unexpected disturbance and adapt to the new realities by way of imparting online education.
Both the educational institutions and students weren’t prepared for such a predicament and are facing extreme challenges. It is difficult to maintain the quality of education through an online mechanism. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, we need to grasp the opportunity to benefit from online learning mechanisms and should optimise them for the future.
Undermining the danger
When the novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, no one would’ve imagined that it could become so deadly and unstoppable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) could not gauge its intensity in the initial stages. WHO Director General Dr Tedros admitted, “WHO made mistake to assess the severity of the Coronavirus”. It was only on March 11 that it was declared a pandemic. This rang alarm bells throughout the world. Before that, it was taken lightly by the countries where no cases were reported. Hence, they did not prepare for the impending crisis.
Similarly, educational institutions neither took steps for the online teaching mechanism, nor did they inform their students for such a possibility. In such circumstances, it was deemed appropriate to continue online learning mechanism on an ad-hoc basis to minimise the damage to academic pursuits.
Virtual learning as the way forward
After realising that the Covid-19 crisis is a long-term problem, students were notified by educational institutions, mostly private, that online classes would be initiated. With no prior experience to online learning mechanism, the majority of students as well as faculty members, had to encounter certain challenges.
The Zoom application is mostly the preferred application for meetings or online classes. It has almost perfect virtual class-like set-up with the message, raise your hand, mute audio, video, and recording options etc. However, recently a news was doing the rounds on social media that a professor of biology delivered a one-hour lecture on mute audio and students tried to remind the professor in this regard. Surprisingly, the professor only came to know about the issue only after the completion of the lecture.
Pros and cons of online learning
Online learning mechanism is not only problematic in Pakistan but also in the Western countries. One of my acquaintance in Germany, who is pursuing a Masters degree, informed me that it is very difficult to cope up with the online studies for many reasons.
Firstly, it creates a gap between student and teacher as the teacher does not know who is attending class attentively and who is not. In the classroom, having observed an inattentive student, the teacher may engage with them or resolve the issue in case a student is feeling difficulty in understanding theoretical concepts.
Secondly, online teaching may also face connectivity issues. In some rural parts of Pakistan, there are no mobile signals and in such a situation attending online lectures is not possible.
Furthermore, even if we assume that online lectures are being conducted successfully, examinations online is not that easy. This is because using unfair means in papers has become a norm. Time and again it is reported that even PhD theses are plagiarised. These ills make us fall far behind in the technological arena than many other countries.
On-campus classes enhance a person’s overall personality. From an academic point of view, presentation and communication skills are improved by constant practice. It also helps in establishing personal contacts between students and teachers which turn to be lifelong connections. Without on-campus studies, that would not be possible.
Online classes have their own benefits and opportunities. Learning lessons online is easier in the sense that students can always watch the lesson again. It saves money and time as students don’t have to travel.
Since this is the first time that we are trying to adjust to online learning, there is a need to evolve a new strategy. In the process, students may be familiarised with online learning mechanism and they may explore beyond limits about their courses and other important skills. They could also get enrolled in self-paced courses online. Institutions could also divide lectures into 75 per cent on-campus and 25 per cent online lectures.
What should teachers do?
A Lahore-based renowned teacher Mr Ahtisham Jan Butt who teaches CSS aspirants, keeping in view the pressing situation, has started uploading lectures on different subjects on YouTube from this the students could benefit during the lockdown period. This philanthropic activity of uploading free lectures will be more helpful than live lectures on Zoom. Additionally, these lectures which are preserved in the digital space can be helpful not only for the students of CSS 2021 but also for all the upcoming batches. Other teachers should follow the example set by Mr Ahtisham Jan Butt and serve the community in these crisis-ridden times.
Read more: How to educate kids during lockdown?
Each institution should develop a mechanism such as lecture applications and uploading videos at the university portal instead of relying on third-party applications. Moreover, private tutors should also shun the practice of charging a hefty amount by offering online classes. It is need of the hour that they contribute to the society by offering free lectures or uploading them on YouTube so that everyone may benefit. They must exhibit a sense of patriotism and humanism amidst the pandemic. They must realise that not everyone can afford expensive online classes. In these grim times, when the global recession is taking place; incomes will decrease and employees will be fired. Hence, profits should be the least of our concerns.
The writer is a freelance contributor and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached on Twitter @AmjadSiyal. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.