- Solutions are needed by September 15, when colleges re-open
By: Sheheryar Nasir
The covid-19 pandemic has crippled the conventional educational methods globally. This overwhelming impact also echoed in Pakistan with stern challenges. The government of Pakistan has responded according to its resources and economic capacity to ensure continued support to the students from elementary to secondary, post-secondary, and higher education levels. This includes the support extended to colleges and universities of the public sector for uninterrupted online academic operations. Educational institutions of both private and public sectors responded and complied with the directions of concerned authorities to sustain educational activities. A lot of material has been published and stuff has been widely discussed on different forums about the pros, cons, and challenges that faculties and students are facing since this transition. This piece will focus on problems faced by professors and lecturers of public sector colleges while carrying out online teaching.
Educational institutions across the country have shifted the teaching methodologies to online education by using the different available technologies. Private schools, colleges, and universities are using their unified learning management systems. Unlike in public sector colleges that lack any centralized learning management systems, so lecturers and professors are using different teaching methods and facing multiple difficulties. The professors’ and lecturers’ fraternity wants to bring their concerns to the knowledge of the Punjab’s Higher Education Department high-ups.
A digital divide still exists in society; teachers and students living in remote areas still facing connectivity issues due to poor and limited internet services. Teachers and students were not accustomed to working in such scenarios and no formal IT pieces of training sessions were held for teachers to use the supported gadgets and relevant apps. Most of the teachers and students are not tech-savvy and not familiar with the use of Google Meet and Zoom applications. Most of the online teaching sessions are carried out on a WhatsApp group established for particular classes and semesters. Students have interacted with live chat, lessons are delivered through recorded voice messages and course material is shared in documents and pictures format. The concerned department recently directed the teachers to submit video recording proofs of their online class sessions along with the timetable with the verification signature of the concerned principal in a USB storage device to the concerned directorate.
There is an indispensable need to cut short the daily timetable to three or a maximum of four lectures daily, as it will help teachers to deliver lessons effectively in a tense environment and students to consume less internet data. E-learning and internet allowances must be approved to help teachers especially in the time when they did not get pay raise in the recent budget. Government should re-introduce the Laptop Schemes at college levels to cover the gap for students with limited access the digital learning resources. Subsidized internet packages can enable students to access high-speed internet too
The management did not consider the fact that the majority of the teachers are not aware of the usage of technical aspects of the apps and recording option in Zoom app is only available for the paid subscribers. The Google meet has a recording option available but with some limitations for a limited period. Student’s attendance ratio is 25 to 30 percent, that clearly shows the students lack interest in online session due to limited access to digital resources.
The social gap is another challenge, which is hampering the fruitful outcomes of online learning. A huge proportion of students studying in government colleges belong to poor families and cannot afford laptops, smartphones, and expensive internet packages. Connectivity challenges faced by students in remote areas due to poor internet speed and power outages further obstructs their ability to keep up. Even where these challenges are somehow dealt with, the quality of online teaching and the credibility of online exams and evaluation processes are also questionable. Likewise, most of the professors and lecturers do not have laptops. Expenses of internet packages, along with increasing Inflation, the price hike of essentials and utility bills is an additional burden on economically marginalized communities especially at the time when their conveyance allowance has been also pulled out since March 2020. They are on duty even during the pandemic and have been called upon in colleges frequently for the different management tasks
An emotional trauma immensely produced by the prevalence of the coronavirus pandemic is an unavoidable factor. The stress level of the teachers is also raised a few of them went through the covid-19 and lost their loved ones. It is hard for teachers to focus on four to five online classes daily without physical interaction and while facing the above-mentioned challenges.
Besides, another important issue that needs the Higher Education Department’s immediate attention is the redtapeism by employees working in its Secretariats that unnecessarily prolongs petty tasks like issuance of retired employees’ notifications, MPhil allowances, and transfer orders, and so on.
The Punjab Professors and Lecturers Association (PPLA) has suggested the following possible solutions to the Higher Education Department to cope with the prevalent issues of online classes. The department should trust the professors, as they are builders of the nation, and provide relaxation on the recording of daily online lectures in the light of the inevitable technical difficulties mentioned earlier. The relevant Subject Head of Department can monitor online classes by assigning proctors to the zoom meetings; WhatsApp groups and Google meet and report to the higher authorities on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
There is an indispensable need to cut short the daily timetable to three or a maximum of four lectures daily, as it will help teachers to deliver lessons effectively in a tense environment and students to consume less internet data. E-learning and internet allowances must be approved to help teachers especially in the time when they did not get pay raise in the recent budget.
Government should re-introduce the Laptop Schemes at college levels to cover the gap for students with limited access the digital learning resources. Subsidized internet packages can enable students to access high-speed internet too.
Professors’ and lecturers’ community is looking forward for an empathetic response from concerned authorities in the light of above suggestions; it will be helpful for teachers and students for uninterrupted education until September 15, which is proposed date of re-opening of educational institutions.