Reviewing online classes after survey findings

The writer is a lecturer
By: Ahmed Umer Sohaib

Pakistan’s acquaintance with online education is not an old subject. As COVID-19 slammed an unprepared Pakistan specifically, many of the previously exercising systems and practices in the country have undergone a transformation. Higher education also received a drastic shift in learning mechanisms. Since, last one and a half month, online classes kicked start and with this, the reservations of university students also came to the surface. Low speed or no internet at all, acute power shortage, poor adaptability of senior teachers to modern learning systems and futile assessment criteria are few of the reservations generally expressed by students on social media forums.

The onus lies on the government to install internet services in those less privileged areas which have been deprived of the internet since long.

Immediately, after the lockdown, in a short time period, HEC and universities (mostly private sector) came up with a solution of virtual learning. It should have been introduced a few years ago keeping in view the compliance element with the concept of the digital classroom, nonetheless it is admirable that a swift solution is now in our hands. The syncing of moodle with universities’ LMS did not appear out of the blue, rather it was a product of collaboration between HEC and universities. Now taking online classes is one component; assessing the quality of learning and mitigating the limitations faced by students is another. Improvement in online classes can only be brought through transparent feedback from students and teachers as well.

Very recently, Gallup Pakistan has conducted “a National Opinion Poll on Support and Opposition of Online Classes”. Students from 55 universities including all provinces as well as Gilgit Baltistan and AJK took part in the poll. The significant point is that students from the top public and private sector universities of Pakistan also participated in this poll in order to express the ongoing virtual learning scenario. The poll results state that 84% of the students did not like attending classes online. Over 7 out of 10 students did not support the continuation of online education. Among them, students from Balochistan and GB expressed the most dislike for online classes. This ruckus is obviously due to unavailability of the internet in most of the areas of Balochistan, GB and Hunza. A high 74% students found online class difficult. Amongst them, most were undergraduate students while postgraduate students were more likely to find online classes easy. 17% of the students cited unavailability of electricity as a serious challenge faced during online classes, while 80% of students claimed that internet connectivity is an issue for them during online classes.

Apart from these findings, few other aspects were interesting that need teachers to ponder upon. Nearly 48% students reported being involved in other tasks while attending online classes. Only 48% responded that they sat through the entire e-lecture. Surprisingly, 45% students from KPK were supportive of all classes being taught online. Many possible reasons might include ponderous campus life, underdeveloped infrastructure or archaic teaching pedagogies thus making KPK students to like this learning system instead.

In a nutshell, Gallup Pakistan’s survey is an impression to review the learning tools being utilized during online classes. Universities and HEC can derive pertinent lessons from this survey. Universities should also conduct an internal survey for their own students in order to improve the learning systems. Since, students are concerned about their semester, it is imperative to heed their suggestions and grievances with open a heart and mind. Perhaps Gallup Pakistan can also conduct a poll for teachers because they are in a better position to point out the limitations in online learning system.

Since, this was very first survey regarding online classes by Gallup Pakistan after the first month of lockdown, more similar surveys in regular fashion will help educationists and universities’ administration to evaluate the response of students as they get adapted to technology. It initially shows students’ dislike for online classes but as the quality and engagement level will increase, it will alleviate students’ reluctance towards online classes. For that matter, universities’ administration and teachers need to come up with updated learning methodologies, engaging course material and conceptual assessment tools. Universities must know that students are the major stake holder in this system. The universities that still lag in commencing online classes, need a ruthless self-examination of their educational priorities.

The onus lies on the government to install internet services in those less privileged areas which have been deprived of the internet since long. Balochistan, ex FATA, GB and Hunza are in a state of limbo. HEC needs to arrange online workshops for university teachers to engage them in creating innovative assessment techniques for students. Moreover, once universities get open, a consortium of universities is required to be established to dialogue and discuss new ideas on online classes.

In Pakistan, the debate of virtual learning is not in infancy anymore. Universities have a chance to shrug off the self-imposed rot of inertia that bedevils our innovative teaching pedagogies. This is a trial of modern learning systems for future. Within the folds of this lockdown lies a glimmer of opportunity. As the lockdown is lifted, we will be experiencing a totally different education systems. It will be better that we must be cognizant for the neo-normal.

The writer is a lecturer at Superior University Lahore. He is also a youth correspondent to Commonwealth in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]