LAHORE: Loopholes have started appearing in the online teaching system adopted by different universities in the wake of closure of all educational institutions to minimise the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
Hundreds of students and faculty members of different universities lodged complaints on Prime Minister’s Portal with regard to the online teaching system’s quality of instruction, digital readiness of the instructor, poor internet connectivity etc.
These complaints fall into different categories, including connectivity problems faced by the students, especially those living in remote areas of FATA, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK where 3G technology is not available yet.
The students in these areas are also finding it difficult to recharge their SIMs, get internet packages, or reload balance because of the current restrictions and many of them were unable to comprehend online lectures because of poor streaming.
HEC asks institutions to build capacity for effective virtual learning
Faculty members have also expressed their concerns and were reluctant to visit the respective campuses for delivering online lectures.
The students have also reservations about the quality and effectiveness of online teaching as they could not ask questions in case they fail to comprehend a lecture. They also complain about the voice quality of audio lectures which they find inaudible, besides quality of teachers who, they say are not properly trained in online communication.
Some of them also object to the quality of online evaluation.
Virtual University of Pakistan (VUP) Registrar Dr Mohsin Javed told Dawn that the conventional mode of teaching was different from online teaching system.
He said the universities did not have any platform to start the online teaching system like Learning Management System (LMS) of the Virtual University. “These universities don’t have any reliable connectivity system between student and teacher and no one knows whether all students and teachers have gadgets like laptop and internet,” he said.
Mr Javed said three things were important in ru nning online teaching system --- content delivery, course handling and evaluation. “These universities also don’t have any centralised email system and most of their teacher cannot send educational material via email [to students] without getting proper training,” he said.
He said that on the direction of theHigher Education Commission (HEC), VU was helping 14 universities to build online education system. However, he said it would take some time to become operational.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked the HEC for drafting policy guidelines for all educational institutions, including colleges, universities and madressahs (seminaries) with regard to academic activities during closure because of Covid-19 pandemic.
The government had closed all academic institutions until May 31 in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic with directions that the period of break would be treated as summer vacations.
On the PM’s direction, the HEC has issued a series of policy guidelines series on Covid-19, a copy available with Dawn, that say that the universities and the degree awarding intuitions (DAI’s) that have well-instituted and operational Learning Management System (LMS) could continue online teaching during the extended spring semester 2020. Whereas, the varsities that are not yet ready for online instructions, on account of different limitations (technological, technical or spatial) may plan, acquire, train, and equip themselves to execute online teaching from June 1, 2020.
It states that HEC has established a Technical Support Committee (TSC) to extend all necessary support for the transition to online mode of learning. The TSC had identified requirements and process for the establishment of LMS and universities could approach it at firstname.lastname@example.org acquiring the system.
The HEC is establishing a National Knowledge Bank (NKB) to provide online access to a range of academic materials, including curricula, syllabuses, lists of textbooks, links to digital libraries, lesson plans, video lectures, PPTs, exam questions, quizzes and assignments.
Likewise, the National Academy for Higher Education (NAHE) has been tasked to arrange or recommend online tutorials on skills and competencies needed for good quality online education.
The HEC also directed the universities to protect health and lives of all stakeholders, including students, faculty members and other staff and ensure completion of semester. The full semester loss will also be loss for universities in financial terms so they should also be prepared for the future and try to establish policies, processes, systems, infrastructure and institutions, it says.
The commission has instructed universities to ensure quality online teaching because students and faculty had shown concerns over online teaching and lodged complaints.
It directed the universities to address these issues in order to build acceptability of the new delivery mode as the current crisis did not leave options for saving the semester. The problem is that continued poor quality of instruction and evaluation may force the universities to cancel the semester, with both substantive and financial costs.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Higher Education Department (HED) on Monday constituted a nine-member committee to formulate policy and oversee the matter related to provision of online courses, teaching methodology and assessments for learning outcome in the province.
Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) chairman Prof Dr Fazal Ahmed Khalid was made convener, while other members include University of Engineering and Technology Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof Dr Mansoor Sarwar, University of Agriculture Faisalabad VC Prof Dr Muhammad Ashraf, King Edward Medical University VC Prof Dr Khalid Masud Gondal, Lahore University of Management Sciences VC Prof Dr Arshad Ahmad, Punjab University VC Prof Dr Niaz Ahmed Akhtar, University of Education VC Prof Dr Talat Naseer Pasha, Virtual University of Pakistan Rector Dr Naeem Tariq and Kinnaird College for Women Principal Prof Dr Rukhsana David.
The committee and PHEC will coordinate with all stakeholders to provide necessary support to the universities in designing and running online courses, smart classrooms and IT facilities. The universities will have to start preparing and uploading their lectures on LMS to provide online access to students.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020