Calls to further develop online education capabilities in Pakistan

By Muhammad Shakil

A young man stays busy online at home in Peshawar in April during the national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. [Muhammad Shakil]

A young man stays busy online at home in Peshawar in April during the national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. [Muhammad Shakil]

PESHAWAR -- The development and implementation of online classes for students during the coronavirus lockdown is key to keeping youths hopeful and busy, and sustaining their mental health, say observers.

"Developed countries around the globe have introduced online learning in their education setups to apprise students about new developments and improve their innate capabilities to 'search and seek' in their respective fields," said Anas Takreem Kakakhel, an education analyst and general secretary of the Private Education Network Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"Countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Australia have already included online techniques of learning in their educational system, owing to its countless benefits," he said.

"Online learning and remote classes are the only options available in the crisis-like situation that has arisen after the spread of the coronavirus in the country," he added.

Keeping youth busy

"The most vulnerable segment is our young generation, which is confined to its homes," Kakakhel said. "Its educational process has been severed. Online education will keep it busy and prevent it from being part of any venture that is unwanted and detrimental to society."

"Online classes cannot replace classrooms, but the new system is a praiseworthy step to save the future of students," he added.

The government should consider developing internet availability in remote areas, according to Kakakhel, adding that students living in the newly merged tribal areas should be given priority.

Online learning will make students aware of socially connective technologies that will help them to pursue studies, said Basar Ali, a lecturer at the Media and Communication Studies Department of Khushal Khan Khattak University in Karak District.

Futures 'in jeopardy'

"The popularity of social technologies has influenced many educational institutions like Allama Iqbal Open University and the Virtual University [of Pakistan]," he said.

"The ever-increasing enrolment of students in these universities is itself proof of the success of online systems that now have been introduced to students in the looming educational crisis emanating from the coronavirus," said Ali.

"Higher education institutions should develop online learning and management systems like Allama Iqbal Open University," he said. "Otherwise, it will be very difficult to achieve the targeted goal of students' involvement in distance learning."

"Tens of thousands of students, whose futures are in jeopardy due to the coronavirus, should be brought online as soon as possible," he added.

A safety valve

Dwindling hope and increasing levels of uncertainty are some of the factors that encourage frustration, depression and mental instability among the young generation, he said, adding that such factors exponentially increase the chances of students becoming involved in undesirable activities like violence and extremism.

"We appreciate the efforts of the government to restore the already fragile education system, as well as its plans to save the future of students and give them a path to avoid radicalisation and anti-social activities," said Ali.

"Most parents are worried about the future prospects of their children, who have been confined to their homes by current movement restrictions and by closure of educational institutions," said Ehsan Ullah Shah, a teacher at the Government Higher Secondary School Paharipura Peshawar and focal person of the Sports Directorate of KP Elementary and Secondary Education. "They fear the growth of harmful tendencies in their children's minds."

"The younger generation must be part of positive activities; otherwise, the probability of its involvement in unwanted activities like violence, extremism, and in some cases militancy, will increase," he said. "The main reasons ... are depression, frustration, uncertainty and mental distress."

"Online education will involve students in their routine activities and will serve as a safety valve for the negative impacts on their minds in this crisis," he said.

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