The post-COVID-19-crisis Pakistan will be able to better equip itself for the 4th industrial revolution, however, we need to remember that how the world will look like if there is a digital virus and this millennium bug would erase all data.
This was stated by experts at an online consultation titled ‘Higher Education and Digital Inclusiveness in Times of COVID-19’ organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.
Dr Nadia Tahir Managing Director, Quality Assurance Agency, Higher Education Commission said COVID-19 has placed higher education at the forefront of the quality frontier, and now we have to address that access is key to success.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said that digital inclusiveness also addresses inequality, but one thing we need to address is its regressive effects on marginalized and vulnerable segments of the society.
He said the challenges we are faced with, what we need to do to get things in order, the way we’re running our offices and teaching our students through digital classrooms, all these things are enabling us to get ready for the 4th revolution. He said we also need cyber security arrangements and how to conduct secure exams and monitoring and evaluation of the classrooms
He further added that the online form of education is being introduced to keep students engaged in these testing times. Highlighting the issue of digital divide in Pakistan, he said generally we have good connectivity, however there is a huge mismatch between digital and non-digital world.
Dr Babar Shahbaz from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, said our teachers used to teach us practical oriented courses, but today the main concern is that the students cannot understand practical type of activities virtually. “They can be explained theory but the challenge is explaining to them how to handle the equipment, etc.” More challenges are for postgraduate students, who are doing research in laboratories, he said. He went on to say that in my university, most students are from rural and marginalized areas and they have to face problems of connectivity, and costly internet packages.
Dr Shahbaz said veterinary science or agricultural courses that are complemented by practical demonstrations will remain a challenge, as students have to work with instruments and gadgets, so we shall have to compromise on quality due to practical nature of courses.
Research fellow, SDPI, Dr Sajid Amin stated there are benefits to be reaped from this crisis. In the long-term, we are moving towards a blended system of learning and teaching methods where there will be a balance between virtual and face to face systems, moving on to blended methods requires course content that is widely circulated and will have to be designed very carefully which will be beneficial in the long run.
Ehsan Ullah, Education Expert, UNESCO, said we already have a burden of 23 million out of school children, 42 million children that are enrolled are affected. He said different approaches are used internationally and nationally as how to continue education, how to protect children and how to make sure that they will go back to school after this situation ends.
“Renewed economic efforts and resources will be needed for this purpose, and this spillover effect will magnify at the end of COVID 19 especially at the rural level, and girls will be facing more barrier to access education. He said there is a need to adopt equity approach, work together to mobilize resources with everybody participating in the response.”
Speaking on the occasion Dr Afshan Huma, Assistant Professor, Allama Iqbal Open University, said the first thing is that technological revolution somehow more of an opportunity for all developing countries, and the first three revolutions are not a prerequisite for the 4th. She said this is a low-cost opportunity for all of us, developing countries need to find a better pathway here to enter the revolution in all walks of life including education.
She added that if HEC can reach an agreement with Telcos, they’ll be able to solve most students’ issues with connectivity and access. Furthermore, we can use simulations to have hands on demonstrations, these simulations can be created by certain institutions and shared with all. Finally. when we use flipped classrooms, students have the opportunity to read and listen to the online lecture first, this will allow the students brain time to process the information and bring about critical questions, it is proven that online learning mode and flipped classrooms promote critical thinking much more effective than a traditional classroom.