THE world has changed, and so has the definition of success for students in the post-Covid world. Institutions need to create spaces for students to achieve what they count as achievement. While an institution’s success is gauged by the number of graduates it produces every year, students’ success depends on their acquisition of the right training to make their way ahead in the professional world.

For a long time now in Pakistan, academic institutions are blamed for only serving their interests without equipping their students with the right skillset that may give them financial independence and a proper learning attitude.

This has generated a vacuum that is filled by people who pompously call themselves ‘influencers’ and ‘motivational speakers’ — TikTokers, e-commerce ‘gurus’ et al. — who are seen on social media platforms relegating the importance of degree programmes in universities, calling formal education a farce, advising students to spend time and money instead on learning skills for swift financial gains. Jobless degree-holders work as a catalyst to support this stance.

Instant gratification, glamour and returns enable the message of these ‘content creators’ to seep seamlessly into the impressionable minds of the youth who are promised endless opportunities without being given even a hint of what they are missing; precious time of their youth to develop their personality, vision, social intelligence and analytical abilities in classrooms.

In the post-pandemic world, change is silently sweeping across the education sector in Pakistan where students, like their counterparts in developed countries, will soon be responsible for paying at least a part of their university education instead of depending on their parents because inflation is nibbling away at people’s capacity to afford higher education.

The universities must realise that in the changing socio-economic scenarios, success for students now may mean more than knowledge and degrees.

Think of a student in the United States who works as a carpenter during the day to support his studies and is only able to take time out during the weekends and evenings with his staggering work-related schedule. He manages to continue his education only because the institutions offer him a spectrum of learning modes; face-to-face, distant, remote, online and offline. He can pick the time, space and even the mode of examinations as per his own convenience. What will somebody in a similar situation do in Pakistan? Start a YouTube channel? Become a TikToker? All without any training?

In Pakistan, unfortunately, educational institutions are only as flexible as a fat man in a yoga class. Courses offered by these institutions have outdated curriculums, lack hands-on training and are rigid in terms of time and space. They adapt at a snail’s pace to new trends, like e-commerce, online content creation, cryptocurrency, blockchain, cybersecurity, etc.

They are all emerging fields, but are hardly offered as part of courses even in the leading universities of the country.

With no formal training, skills and educational background, the youth in Pakistan can hardly meet the international standards of these latest skills to make their mark in the world. Also, on freelancing platforms, like Upwork and Fiverr, and the multinational e-commerce platforms, like Amazon, most do not perform well because of their superficial knowledge and aversion to research and development. The youth needs grooming. Period. The universities must provide it even if it is for being a TikToker.

It is time academic institutions in Pakistan shunned the ‘one-size-fits-all’ practice, and started acknowledging the individuality of each student. Focussing on the academic involvement of the students includes where the students are coming from and the career path they choose for themselves.

There must be more alternative pathways to a self-sufficient future for the students. With changing trends in the job market, students must experience a relevant and inclusive curriculum, gain skills of the future, and be provided experiential learning opportunities. An equity-minded lens approach is essential.

The pandemic highlighted the basic needs gaps for students and the importance of social connection. Institutions need to ensure security, including housing, food, jobs, transportation, and technology through appropriate funding and support in the shape of emergency loans, affordable tuition, free texts and course materials.

There is a dire need to move forward towards sustainable educational institutions and a robust learning system that focuses on skill-based learning, enabling the students to be financially independent and socially responsible in order to contribute to their families, society, country and the world at large. It’s time for a class!

Muhammad Ali Falak
Texas, USA

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022

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