Dr. Mahmood A Khwaja
Published Date: Jul 4, 2020
A New outlook and emerging needs for education systems
The impacts of coronavirus and the resulting fast changing scenario, in almost all walks of life are too obvious, since the outbreak of the pandemic. Education, a fundamental human right and a dire need, is no exception and is among the most severely hardest hit, not only in its outreach and delivery to one and all across in any country but also in keeping its relevance and adequate quality, from the point of view of the employer requirements & expectations, employees essential knowledge & skill and the market demand, itself also fast changing in many ways because of the pandemic..
Due to the very threats to the lives of both the learners and the trainers/educators, in the prevailing COVID-19, all most all around, both the learners & the educator/trainers could not just be physically present (face to face) at a learning place, as has been in the pre-COVID-19, traditional education systems at all levels (nursery, primary, secondary, graduate and post-graduate), for obtaining a formal or non-formal education, leading to a desired targeted qualification awards – diplomat, certificates or degrees.
Quality and relevant “Education without Physical Presence,” at all levels, appears to be the only option, the very need of the hour and main fundamental challenge, in the developing countries, including Pakistan, our South Asian neighbors and in Asia, in general and may be to a lesser extent, also in the developed countries. Out of sight learning and education imparting from a distance, by employing some appropriate technology be one viable approach which is a mega change from exclusive physical to an on-line education system. If adopted, it would most obviously be confronted with new emerging many challenges for all the stakeholders, involved with education, including the educational planners, facilitators, public & private sectors, educational institutions, parents, teachers and students.
The review of the pre-COVID-19 old traditional curriculums and its revision, to adopt the new online learning and education system, is another vital issue for consideration
The first and foremost consideration for the education planners is to adopt the new on-line distance learning and education as a “Stop Gap” arrangement, for a long term (if so how long) or on permanent basis. What would be the fate of the new system and the invested resources, if and when the normalcy may return, to adopt back the old system. Timing and scope, as when to be adopted, if in phases or simultaneously across the country are to be very carefully and realistically considered. What would be the fate of the huge existing physical infrastructure? Many university campuses already look like “Ghost Town.” Would the existing pre-COVID-19 educational governance & administrative system continue to be relevant and still required? What impacts the new system may have on female education opportunities and the students drop out in general?
For an effective online distance learning and education, among the very fundamental needs are the access to reliable technology (broad band computers and fast internet), digital learning and skill acquirement, both for the learners and educators, strong IT material support and IT experts in rural, urban, near and far off developed and underdeveloped areas, across the country.
The review of the pre-COVID -19 old traditional curriculums and its revision, to adopt the new online learning and education system, is another vital issue for consideration. Whereas, it may not be much of a challenge for arts & social disciplines, for physical sciences, medical and engineering, the provision of laboratory work, imparting on hand training, practical demonstration and skill enhancement (essential for the respective disciplines) just could not be left out to keep social distancing. Could this be left to the respective future employers to manage and provide, as per the job needs, with practical training at site or a “Hybrid/Blended” educational system (a mix of online distance learning and partial return to physical learning and education) need to be looked into, with all its related issues and requirements, such as smart part-time reopening of the campuses & educational institutions, preparation for the same, including on the campus COVID testing & monitoring, quarantine facilities and SOPs to safeguard health of all part-time returnees to the campuses.
Other related key issues for pre-consideration, in adopting the online learning and education are development of a mechanism for performance evaluation, to replace the traditional examination system, academic and IT experts forums, development and access to e-learning resources/support material, creation of help-desks both for learners and the educators, at least in the initial phase and the need of a non-disruptive friendly environment for online learning and education, at the learner’s end – his/her distant home.
It’s direly need of the hour that the above summarized key issues of concern be deliberated upon, at all levels among all relevant stake-holders. Answers to the very specific questions raised above may come through, by bringing to gather the experts and researchers from think tanks, universities/academia and policy makers, from within and outside the country. The academic/educational experts and policy makers should share their experiences, success stories, towards way forward and reflect to find out what would/would not work? How to minimize the constraints, due to likely lack of or available inadequate resources , towards effective implementation of the educational system with a new overall outlook, in a sustainable way, to keep lives alive and ignorance away, inshallah.