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Online Education

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Online Education

Re-imagine the Future

Online education is the order of the day!

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the people anything, it is that the need for digital education and e-learning is greater than ever now. After witnessing the highly-damaging effects of Covid-19, no sane person would deny that this pandemic has now become a part and parcel of our lives as no end to it is in sight, at least in the near future. So, when all other sectors of economy are being opened gradually, it is imperative to restore traditional activities in the education sector as well. However, with the rise of technology, and people getting used to making its constructive use during the Covid days, incorporating technology into the domain of education seems inevitable. It carries a lot of benefits as well.

Covid-19 and Education Sector in Pakistan
Prior to Covid-19, Pakistan saw some promising education improvements, particularly in terms of primary gross enrolment rates — up from 85 to over 95 percent by 2019. However, the growth stalled due to the outbreak of the pandemic as to cope with this emergency situation, the government announced to close schools from 13 March 2020, affecting over 46 million learners aged 5 to 16. While closures presented challenges for all in terms of accessing continuous learning, remaining motivated to learn, and gaining the necessary support at home and remotely from teaching staff to learn, it particularly affected those who had no access to modern tools of learning like gadgets, devices and so on.

Since spending time out of school adversely affects students’ progress, a pressing need was felt to devise a system where students could spend more time in learning activities. In this context, the federal government took a leading role in providing educational opportunities for all children by extending the reach of distance and online learning platforms. As early as 13 April 2020, the federal government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, launched ‘Teleschool’ which was aired on the state-owned terrestrial broadcasting network, Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC), operating from 8am to 6pm, providing one hour of instruction for each age group. This proved to be a hugely successful step as over 300 companies, organizations and people donated their content.

Pros and Cons of Online Learning
While online education holds many benefits, it has some drawbacks as well. Here is a brief overview of the pros and cons of e-learning.

Pros
Based on the success of Teleschool initiative, it can be asserted with a greater degree of confidence that the future of education in Pakistan, like most countries in the world, is online.
1. Customizable experience
Education that takes a one-size-fits-all approach is bound to leave some students behind. In online education, students have the flexibility to create their own online learning environments as it enables the teacher and the student to set their own learning pace, and there is an added flexibility of setting a schedule that fits everyone’s agenda.
2. Efficiency
Online learning offers teachers an efficient way to deliver lessons to students. Online learning has a number of tools such as videos, PDFs, podcasts, etc. and teachers can use all these tools as part of their lesson plans. By extending the lesson plan beyond traditional textbooks to include online resources, teachers are able to become more efficient educators.
3. Easy for students
One of the biggest benefits of online education is that it allows the students to take their classes just by sitting at home. With a laptop and a proper internet connection, students are able to learn and take their classes without the rush of catching their daily commute on time or missing any attendance due to arriving late in class.
4. Accessibility of time and place
If online education allows students to attend classes from any location of their choice, it also allows schools to reach out to a more extensive network of students, instead of being restricted by geographical boundaries. Additionally, online lectures can be recorded, archived, and shared for future reference. This allows students to access the learning material at a time of their comfort.
5. Affordability
Another great benefit of online classes is that it’s a cost-efficient way as it saves the commute expenses. It also saves the cost of additional tuition as the institutions provide all learning material under one roof, i.e. past papers, books, notes, test papers and practice tests. Since it involves reduced financial costs, online learning is far more affordable as compared to physical learning.
6. Better environment
All the course or study materials are available online, thus creating a paperless learning environment which is more affordable, while also being beneficial to the environment. Moreover, no commuting to school means no pollution. A shift to online education also means less need for massive parking lots at universities that take away green space.
7. Critical skills
The online experience can also hone important skills like time management, self-motivation and critical thinking; skills that are essential in the modern workforce.
8. Increased enrollment and retention
The basic philosophy of online education is that it provides opportunities even to those who cannot continue their education in the current education system due to economic or social problems. There are many people who can’t go to colleges or universities because of financial constraints and, thus, they prefer doing jobs or business. In addition, many girls are unable to continue their education due to social problems and difficulties. Additionally, a study at Harvard found that breaking up a lecture into smaller components, a task that you can do online, increases a student’s retention. This is in contrast to in-person schooling, where students digest the entire lecture all at once.
9. A variety of learning styles
Every student has a different learning journey and a different learning style. Some students are visual learners, while some students prefer to learn through audio. Similarly, some students thrive in the classroom, and other students are solo learners who get distracted by large groups.
The online learning system, with its range of options and resources, can be personalized in many ways. It is the best way to create a perfect learning environment suited to the needs of each student.
10. Social learning
Social learning is a form of indirect learning. In other words, it refers to abstractly learning from and with others by interactions. Some might think the only way of social learning may be face-to-face learning, but this is not always the case. Elements of social learning are already being integrated into e-learning. Live classrooms are one such practice that has enabled learners to interact in a rich social learning environment.
Digital tools are enabling learners to connect with each other. Mindful discussions among learners are always an integral part of learning, and the industry is working in order to bring more and more positive changes to connect learners so they don’t miss out.

Cons 
1. Unplanned e-learning System
The major drawback of online education in Pakistan is that this system is new to Pakistani institutions and they are not fully prepared for it. The unplanned quizzes and assignments have become a major problem for the students. Without a proper way of marking online presence of the students, online classes have become a joke for many students as they do not think that taking online session is important and keep skipping their sessions.
2. Connectivity issues
The government has good reason to push for more e-learning, but Internet accessibility is still too low in much of the country. There are very few institutions that have the option of recording the online sessions, In case a student misses the lectures due to the unavailability of internet connection or power. All the other institutions still do not have this option which makes it hard for the students to keep a track of their course outlines. Continuously missing the deadlines of assignments due the connectivity issues have also caused the students to lose their long-maintained CGPAs during these online classes.
3. Technological glitches
The learning process can be jeopardized easily if the computer or the Internet is not working properly. While technology is great, it can render a person helpless in case of any unannounced hurdles. With power outages being a frequent occurrence, it becomes difficult for students to rely solely on online platforms — especially when they have an exam or a test the next day.
Issues with Online Education
In a webinar “Education Going Online” conducted, on 07 February 2021, by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, the renowned educationists of Pakistan enumerated the following challenges:
· Should we bring in more online teaching even if the pandemic ends as students have poor living conditions in hostels and poor security?
· Students, as well as teachers, are feeling the diminished accountability in a distance education system as the students have shifted from classrooms explicitly designed for learning to bedrooms and kitchen tables where they are distracted by plentiful reasons.
· The workload and screen time of students, as well as teachers, is increasing immensely due to the online education system.
· Pakistani households are very crowded so students don’t get proper independent space for learning online.
· Only 35% of the population has access to the internet that may increase social inequality due to the non-availability of the internet in marginalized areas of the provinces.
· The language barrier is still one of the main concerns for young Pakistani students.
· The administration of online lectures was a struggle for the university’s competent authorities.
· Quality assurance of online lecture content was difficult as it was the first experience for Pakistani teachers.
· Catering the different types of audience online was a challenge because a lot of factors contribute towards effective on-campus learning.
· Instructors need to bring innovation in the current education system as the pandemic has taught us that the teachers may become redundant in the coming few years.
· According to the PBS statistics, only around 6%-7% of the households have access to laptops or tablets and the rest don’t even have known how to use this equipment.
· Moreover, only 24% population in rural areas has access to limited internet connections.
· One of the major challenges being faced by the education system is the enhancement of the learning capacity of students as one of the World Bank’s reports suggest that the knowledge of a 10th-grade student is even below the level of a 5th-grade student.
· Students are more focused on earning a degree rather than enhancing knowledge with some clear objective and it creates a skewed situation as some students having a 4/4 CGPA don’t even have basic knowledge about their subject so it has become a challenge to get a good product from job market as well.

Dr Zafar Iqbal Butt, Chairman Department of Sport Sciences & Physical Education, University of the Punjab, has summed up the challenges in the following words:
“Education authorities in our country started online classes to educate the students but after finding different kinds of flaws in this system, they conclude that the online classes cannot be an alternative to face-to-face class system. There are so many issues with the online class system. Non-serious approach of the majority of students is one of the major drawbacks of this system. It’s also a fact that most of our students are not accustomed to this way of teaching. There are plenty of cheating options for students in online tests or exams which is also a big disadvantage of this system. On the other hand, in face-to-face class system, students can clear their concepts and other academic confusions through cross-questioning with the teachers.”

Conclusion
Given the nature of challenges faced by online education, especially poor internet connectivity, it seems apt to go for hybrid model. It would be a viable option for Pakistan and for this increasing the internet access to all the students studying across Pakistan is inevitable. It is the responsibility of everyone including the educational institutions, teachers, students, and parents to ensure transparency by minimizing cheating ways. So everyone needs to put their share to adopt the modern online education system by adapting to innovation and technology.

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