If e-learning means getting connected on Zoom or Whatsapp for a disjointed lecture, then universities might as well ask students to listen to already available high quality lectures on YouTube, because that way at least there will be some learning
For a good few weeks, people across Pakistan, and indeed the whole world, have been caught in a dreadful situation. The entire education system has been displaced as a result of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, and students in particular have become victims of new mechanisms of learning that are being enforced during this pandemic.
Schools and universities were among the first casualties of the coronavirus lockdown in most countries. As soon as the first coronavirus case was reported in Pakistan, the state immediately shut down schools and universities. It moved swiftly in part because it was the easiest to do so, as there was no real economic damage attached to this decision. There was consensus that young people are vulnerable and have to be taken care of – unlike the adults who can look after themselves.
As soon as governments announced the lockdown, the traditional spaces of learning were closed, yet we were told that ‘learning’ would continue. University administrations began hopping onto the remote-learning bandwagon, but without any consideration for the logistical issues involved in rolling out this novel method of continuing classes.
Although many students remained absent from online classes and some complained about the new system, university administrations went on with their businesses, paying no heed to the digital divide across the country. It has been many days since students turned to remote learning to save their semester, but the inadequate online system has thus far only proven to be an obstacle to learning, both for untrained teachers and students. This is particularly true for students in remote areas where they struggle with terrible internet connections.
Learning is not merely a question of reading materials and submission of assignments, it is an experience and a process. Students come to universities to sit together in the classroom – to listen and to understand; to think and question; to discuss and to engage; to agree and to disagree. This is true learning in a university setting. Class work, group projects, presentations, workshops, – all these things constitute higher education. A virtual space can never make up for all this!
But what other options does a university administration have? Yes, there are limited options, but these do not prevent us from becoming creative in these difficult times. The usual university days (with a normal course load) and summer breaks (which include internships) are so hectic that students barely get any time to pursue other interests, like writing or painting or singing. This is the time they could be engaged in creative pursuits which can aid their learning and growth as young adults. Introducing such changes in academic practices will require university administrations to be empathetic to the plight of students and begin changing the prevalent stifling culture that dominate our halls of knowledge. To simply allow them to observe and absorb the peculiarity and sensitivity of this time will aid their education more than any online learning.
If e-learning means getting connected on a Zoom or Whatsapp for a broken, disjointed and half-delivered lecture and being given loads of assignments, then universities might as well ask students to listen to existing lectures on YouTube. There are enough reading materials and high-quality video lectures on a vast variety of topics in the online space for educational purposes.
Universities should be less rigid and allow students to be creative and learn their own way rather, rather than crushing them under the weight of assignments and strict adhere to attendance in online lectures.
Mindlessly adapting to an online learning without having designed a proper system only shows that universities do not care about education! They only care about the business of education.