The Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB) on Tuesday hosted a roundtable discussion on technology in education under the name “EdTech – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: The Experiences from Pakistan and Finland” by bringing experts from the field of education, including teachers, principals and leadership of civil society institutions from Pakistan and Finland.

The discussion was led by Dr Naveed Yousuf, Associate Director, Assessment and Research. All stakeholders had the opportunity to share their experiences of transition from classroom learning to online teaching, learning and assessment since 2019 when the COVID-19 called for the closure of all schools.

They discussed that the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges in education sectors across the world with the distinctive rise in e-learning. A shift from classroom learning to remote teaching, learning and assessment through digital platform was implemented by most of the educational institutions globally.

While most of the developed countries were equipped with the educational technology to overtake the classroom learning, for many developing countries, including Pakistan, this shift required access to resources and preparedness.

Ali Gohar Chang, Principal, IBA – Public School Sukkur, pointed at the big gap in the experiences of using technology in public vs private schools for various reasons, including availability resources and expertise. Ms Tasneem Shabbar Zaidi, the Principal of Al-Murtaza Schools stated that this shift required changes in the operation of schools and delivery of the programs for learning and assessment.

Most schools’ representatives from Pakistan showed concern about lack of a gadget per child. Majority of students come from middle-income families with more than one child in the family going to school and not all can afford to attend online classes.

Mahboob Mahmood, Founder of Knowledge Platform noted that Pakistan lacks the infrastructure necessary to shift its academic programs and processes online. Connectivity and power failure are among the major issues. In most of the public schools across the country, teachers are not trained to deliver classes online, and the quality of education and pedagogy is weak, said Mr Chang.

Farzana Jamal, the Principal of Habib Public School and Ms Shirin Nooruddin, General Manager, Aga Khan Education Service for South Region, noted that Habib Girls’ Schools and the AKES schools were prepared in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The availability of infrastructure made it easy to transition.

The AKU-EB digital library allowed many of the remote regions access information despite the connectivity challenges. AKU-EB school training and online webinars supported all schools across the country, despite their affiliation with the Board, noted by some of the affiliated schools’ representatives. The challenges faced by Finland were significantly different.

Antti Kaskinen, CEO & Co-founder, Finnish Global Education Solutions Ltd, noted that the country is based on public education system, funded by the government. Online mode was easily welcomed, and teachers had the autonomy in the system to handle the crisis. Since there are no summative tests, there is a lot of flexibility.

The Consul General of Pakistan in Finland Wille Eerola highlighted an example from the history of Finland, noting that in 1960’s, Finland was an agricultural country and by 1980’s, it was one of the highest hi-tech country in the world. The only reason for such progress was investment in education.

In Pakistan, at this point of time, it is a huge responsibility of the private educational institutions to uplift the public schools and ensure the smooth transition, said Fahad Siddiqui, Chairman, Stanmore Group of Institutions. We need to collaborate and train staff, share knowledge and experience.

The statement was supported by Farzana Jamal, who emphasized the importance of the 21st century skills and enhancing those skills through information and technology. The important purpose of educating our children, she noted, is to prepare them for higher education and future ahead.

Transition from classroom learning to digital ways of learning improved collaboration and communication between students, teachers and parents, said Shahid Raza Badami Principal, Ghulaman-e-Abbas School. This has never happened before, he noted.

Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director, Lightstone Publishers supported the importance of technology in education; however, it must be a blended learning. We cannot miss teaching important values that come along, she noted. In support for blended learning, Antti Kaskinen highlighted that technology should not be the driving force of education but the support in place. Most importantly, no matter how you teach, you need to be capable in terms of pedagogy.

In response, Dr Shehzad Jeeva, Director, AKU-EB emphasized concern over cybercrime and cyberbullying issues in Pakistan and by being exposed to information and technology, whether our children are informed and prepared enough. Dr Jeeva further noted that we need to enhance certain strategies in schools and beyond to educate our students about the cybercrime issues.

Antti Kaskinen noted that in Finland, certain applications are being developed for teaching emotional skills – how to merge computer and human-based learning. Such applications are meant to support learning but not to take over the education.

Wille Eerola proposed close collaboration between academic institutions in Pakistan and invited the Aga Khan University Examination Board to take the lead.

Author

Arshad Yousafzai is a Karachi-based journalist covering Education and Human Rights. He can be reached on Twitter @Arshadyousafzay

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