ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee while discussing the issue of poor or lack of internet connectivity in various parts of the country on Thursday called for a comprehensive strategy and planning to ensure education facilities to all students with limited resources and technological facilities.

The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, which met with Senator Rubina Khalid in the chair at the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Secretariat, discussed the problems being faced by students in remote areas to attend online classes.

“Covid-19 has affected the whole world and Pakistan is no exception. Pakistan has limited resources and wants to see how maximum people could be provided benefit throughout the country,” the committee chairperson said.

Briefing the committee, HEC Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri said since the closure of universities due to the pandemic the HEC has been actively trying to minimise the disruption in educational activities.

“There have been two major issues. Majority of faculty do not have an online teaching background and students are facing internet connectivity issues,” he said and highlighted the efforts made to train the faculty members to improve the quality of their lectures and way of virtual teaching.

He also informed the committee that HEC had been in contact with the telecommunication companies to ensure internet connectivity through subsidised internet packages for students. Telecommunication companies are now offering student packages.

“HEC is making additional efforts to ensure facilitation of internet-deprived children.” He said the commission has also proposed to the government to establish data centres in different areas so students may have access to information. He said HEC has provided universities with detailed policy guidelines on various issues, including conduct of entrance examinations, laboratory work, and other essential academic activities.

A PTA representative told the Senate committee of efforts to ensure internet connectivity as well as availability of required gadgets. The Universal Support Fund (USF) representative informed the committee about different USF projects being executed in far-flung areas to make internet accessibility possible.

The committee members observed that internet devices and technological gadgets are costly due to high liabilities and taxes on them. It recommended that PTA and the Federal Board of Revenue should join hands and deliberate on ways to provide students with affordable internet devices and technological gadgets.

It stressed the need for enabling schools and colleges to replicate the efforts made for online higher education so that e-learning could be promoted at all levels.

Earlier, the committee expressed concerns over the budget earmarked by the government for the higher education sector for the fiscal year and recommended an increase in the budget as per the sector’s requirement.

Some vice chancellors, who also attended the meeting, underlined the measures taken to promote e-learning and online classes. They appreciated the HEC’s role in making the transition easier. However, they also pointed out the hardships universities were confronted with, especially in terms of payment of salaries and meeting other expenses as a result of the recent cut to the HEC funding.

Expressing concerns over financial hardships faced by universities, the committee stressed the need for an immediate increase in the higher education sector’s funding in order to make education affordable and accessible to all.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2020

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