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Technological Advancements in Higher Education

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Technological Advancements in

Higher Education

In Pakistan, higher education institutions, colleges and universities have gradually proliferated over the decades – both in public and private sectors. The country had one university, the University of Punjab, in 1947 out of 16 under British colonial rule in the Subcontinent. Today, the country has 244 registered universities  – 145 in the public sector and 95 in the private sector – with multiple campuses in different cities. Although the number of graduate degree colleges has grown from 35 to 1,500, it is important to know that the population of the country has also swollen from 35 million to 220.42 million people [per the Pakistan Demographic Survey 2020], bringing the health and education sectors under tremendous stress. It is due to this stress that the literacy rate in Pakistan still hovers around 60 percent. 
However, another major, but often overlooked, reason behind a low literacy rate in Pakistan is our failure to keep pace with the modern world. We are living in an era that is characterized by scientific and technological innovation. An abject failure to keep abreast of contemporary advancements has impeded our way to becoming a knowledge-based economy. 
Trends
Pakistan is on the cusp of a digitization drive, though the country’s education sector had, in the past, a mixed engagement with digitalization. Emphasis on digital education in Pakistan has lagged in the past but schools and universities are now being empowered to actively embrace the digital world. Although there are still very few educational institutes that are providing facilities for digital education, this ratio is expected to improve with upcoming digital initiatives in the future. Some of the digitization trends in the educational sector of Pakistan are as follows:
a. Digital classrooms
Most of the private schools and universities in Pakistan are making their classrooms digital by introducing interactive whiteboards, touch screens, computers and projectors. These smart classrooms have resulted in an increased level of understanding on the part of students. Currently, all the students are encouraged to use internet facilities and avail required detailed knowledge of topics instead of learning bookish stuff only. Different educational apps are also installed in smart gadgets that help students understand and get knowledge more easily.
b. E-books
The concept of getting knowledge using e-books is becoming very popular nowadays. Students can access any book by any author from around the world instead of searching for books in libraries.
c. Video-based learning
Video-based learning makes education engaging, entertaining and exploring. So, it is also gaining popularity among students to understand difficult concepts using video interfaces. Many universities are offering facilities for online courses and diplomas, e.g. Pakistan Institute of Management, Virtual University of Pakistan.
d. Educational apps 
Different educational apps have also been introduced in smart gadgets that help students to understand and get knowledge more easily. Scribd, Google Reads and Evernote are some examples of such apps.
e. Wi-Fi availability
Some of the private institutes are providing Wi-Fi facility in all their departments as it helps students gather information from the internet to do their assignments and group studies. The government and private sector have taken some commendable initiatives to support digital learning in Pakistan. Digi Skill learning, Skills First, Learn Smart Pakistan, Connecting Classroom, Virtual Academy, and Future School are a few of the names that are successfully providing online learning opportunities to students.
Challenges 
a. Political control 
There are several challenges in the way of implementing new strategies and technologies in the higher education system. The real challenge is the governance of higher education at two important levels; the Higher Education Commission and internal university administration. Pakistan’s public sector universities were better funded, managed and organized when they had a single commission at the federal level. After the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment and education becoming the exclusive domain of the provinces, Punjab and then Sindh established their own provincial higher education commissions. In practice, public universities have lost autonomy with bureaucracy and the political bosses regulating them from the appointment of vice-chancellors to the approval of internal university rules and regulations. The universities are now subject to deeper political influence through politically appointed VCs (with some exceptions) than at any other time in Pakistan’s history.
b. Funding 
Funding is a huge issue. Public universities receive only about 40 percent of their current budget – 34 percent from the federal and 6-8 percent from the provincial governments. They have to meet 60 percent of their expenses by generating revenues through student fees. It means a higher burden on middle-class families and squeezing the poor out of the system. According to a UNESCO report, only 1.5 percent of the poor can complete their tertiary education. For the current financial year 2022-23, federal funding is estimated at PKR 30 billion for the recurrent and 41 billion for development expenses for public universities, while the VCs have been demanding PKR 102 billion.
c. Capacity building
In Pakistani institutes, there is a lack of technically trained teachers to run online classes smoothly. To strengthen blended, distance and online learning, there is a need to provide more awareness and accessibility to MOOCs, Coursera, and EdX. There is also a need to develop innovative, immersive learning technologies and modern education spaces using virtual, augmented and mixed-reality technology. These technologies, along with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), can change the future of learning by helping us build more interactive, personalized and productive learning solutions. More specifically, when we talk about practical, hands-on learning in STEM, where there is an urgent need for learning material, augmented reality can provide virtual material to help teach with the kinesthetic learning approach.
Conclusion
Technologically developed countries have innovative and advanced systems for e-learning, allowing them to stay in the loop and keep the learning flow active during this academic year. But in Pakistan, online learning is at a nascent stage. Having started as emergency remote learning, it needs further investment to create more adoption and overcome limitations. Along with establishing the Internet in remote areas, developing specialized authoring tools, and creating awareness for getting the most out of online learning, faculty need training to use online modalities and innovative pedagogies to reduce cognitive load and increase interactivity.
The writer is a PhD scholar (English Literature). He can be reached at hbz77@yahoo.com

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