LAHORE: Prof Dr Asghar Zaidi, the vice chancellor (VC) of the Government College University, says education is facing a loss owing to the shutting down of institutes, and even those not closed are facing financial issues that will take years to recover.

He says the top universities of the world started moving towards e-learning before the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, as they predicted an increase in the role of the facility in the future.

“There is a negative perception that studying from the (Allama Iqbal) Open University is not given any importance in the country and only face-to-face/conventional mode of education is preferred,” he bemoans, while talking exclusively to Dawn on the challenges facing higher education in Pakistan and their solution.

Dr Asghar Zaidi says education facing a loss owing to shutting down of institutes

Dr Zaidi thinks incompetence aggravated the situation during the pandemic as institutes failed to meet the challenge. “Our public sector universities had to shift towards a new mode of education quickly during the pandemic. This made us face some challenges, including compromise on the quality of education,” he commented.

During the second wave of the pandemic, he says, they decided to shift towards e-learning. “We found a way during the second wave lockdown and maximum institutions adopted e-learning to complete the courses, and are now doing online assessment.”

For reaping maximum benefits of e-learning, the government needs to invest in the IT sector to provide accessibility and connectivity to every nook and cranny of the country by equipping universities with the required infrastructure. The mindset of the masses about online education also needs to be changed, he suggests.

The VC says there is no denying that this generation is facing educational losses as “we are not ready to adopt e-learning. We still cannot conduct online assessment in true spirit. It needs overall changes in the education system”.

He explains that currently they are assessing students through their physical presence for a couple of hours in an examination hall and asking them to reproduce the lesson they learnt. They are checking students’ sense of reproducing a lesson, but need to test their learning outcomes. “We have to check whether our graduates can apply the knowledge in practical life and if this will be beneficial for anyone and the country or not.”

To a question about the shortage of funds in educational institutions, Dr Zaidi says it is unfortunate that funds for education are being squeezed.

He says he has drawn a four-year strategy for the university under which they need to improve the quality of teaching. “We have to improve our teachers’ training so that they instil quality education in students who become more employable and better human beings.”

The second point in the strategy is improving research to generate a societal impact. Third is bringing internationalisation to local universities by checking the education standards of international universities and replicating them here.

Next is infrastructure development that entails investing in IT infrastructure to generate automation that results in improving the quality of education, governance and management.

Last is good governance by ensuring merit in admissions, appointments and an end to corruption.

Commenting on the financial difficulties the public sector universities are faced with, Dr Zaidi says the universities operating under deficit should think about reducing it. “If there is a small loss on one side and on the other side it is benefiting the masses then we should ignore the deficit.”

Talking about sexual harassment on campus, he says an environment should be created so that any victim can contact the authorities to report harassment.

“The victim should have full protection and confidentiality and the authorities assure them that if they report sexual harassment, strict action will be taken against the culprit,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2021

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