On March 14, many experienced nothing short of an exodus when most students in the major academic centres of Pakistan – Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad – were asked to evacuate from their hostels and flats and move back their homes.
Earlier, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had announced closing of all educational institutions. What initially started as a three-week vacation has now entered its second month. With no clear solution for re-opening institutions amidst a pandemic, most universities moved towards deploying online alternatives to in-person classes. These online alternatives, though they are the need of the hour, do not justify the heavy tuition fees and other dues that these universities keep imposing on students.
These online alternatives range from the weekly Zoom classes to sending YouTube links to already existing lectures on WhatsApp groups. With the inaccessibility of internet facilities or slow and faulty internet connections, YouTube lectures are given preference to real-time online classes. In Pakistan, only 21 percent of the population has active internet connectivity, thus these online classes seem more like a fad than an actual option.
One of the institutions that opted for YouTube lectures is Forman Christian College (FCCU). With a semester tuition fees ranging between Rs125,000 and Rs135,000, depending on which semester one is currently enrolled in, FCCU barely had a proper academic semester this time. The Spring 2020 semester was supposed to have 85 academic days, starting from February 15 and ending on June 11. With the lockdown announced on March 13, we barely had four weeks or 20 days of classes. Out of these days, six working days had to be observed as holidays due to the PSL matches going on. FCCU’s parking lot was used by the government as one of the designated parking spaces used by the spectators of the match.
Due to the collective quarantine situation, maybe a step towards an online form of education might be the only available option. Despite that, paying the full Rs130,000 for pre-recorded Youtube videos, mostly which are of other universities or organizations, sounds extremely unfair to the student body especially if the initial contract was for 85 academic days, instead of the 14 days of proper education that we have gotten.