Coronavirus & repercussions on higher education

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Anum Rashid

COVID-19 menace is not restricted to any country, but it is the global pandemic that has devastated impact on all the spheres of life worldwide. The economies are passing through turbulent phase, businesses are shut down, stock markets are crashing, daily wagers are most vulnerable and most importantly the education sector is suffering. All the schools, colleges and universities are closed because of lockdown measures taken by the government.
More specifically talking about higher education the universities closures around the world has escalated the woes of the students in terms of economic fiascos, and psychological disorders. The students with poor backgrounds, and with financial constraints are left with no options. Hefty amount of semester fee is paid by the students whereas on campus educational journey comes to a standstill. There is an environment of uncertainty and anxiety among the students who are forced to vacate the hostels on short notice. Moreover, students who have spent their time and financial resources for securing admission in top-notch universities are visualizing the precarious future. Many students who are working on their thesis and want to meet in-person with their professors/supervisors for discussing their ideas, may cease to write as their guidance is curtailed. Furthermore, the conducive environment of library is no more available to students for searching the research material and writing their research papers and is another impediment in their research journey. Plethora of students who are about to start their research in international universities under different research grants for instance IRSIP within Pakistani context is hampered.
Online learning system is initiated by universities to meet the need of the hour. Various apps for instance Msn Teams, zoom and many others is used for delivering the online lectures. Faculty members are trying their best to impart knowledge to students. The merits of the system cannot be negated to keep the students engaged, but there is a lacuna that needs to be addressed. Firstly, the teachers are not well versed with these Apps, and so are the students. Secondly, students who are living in remote and far flung areas have internet connectivity issues. Thirdly, every student does not have access to smart gadgets and smart phones thus this online system is not catering the needs of marginalized segment of the society. Fourthly, technical and conceptual subjects cannot be delivered in a cohesive manner through online system. Fifthly, the element of face to face interaction with students is missing. Sixthly, the element of proper evaluation mechanism of students is also missing. Lastly, with the unprecedented growth of this lethal virus no one knows how long this will persist, and hence the students lose their interest as they are not witnessing any exam deadlines in near future which they must follow. Online learning system is not the optimal solution, but to some extent it is playing its role to deal with the contemporary scenario.
Now the question arises that how to mitigate the impact of COVID on higher education sector? Online lectures system should be used to keep students engage, for delivering theoretical subjects, to assign them term papers or assignments, but not as a replacement to the on-campus lectures. Technical subjects should be taught by delivering on campus lecture. It is injustice to students by teaching them such subjects online. There is a need to cogitate on the matter that which subjects can be taught online, and which needs to be delivered in person. Moreover, there is a need to come up with unified policy as some universities initiated online classes whereas others are still in limbo. The closure of universities is announced till 31st May in Pakistan, so by keeping in view the current decision, there is a need for some unified policy that should be adopted by all the universities.
Moreover, students who are about to start their research abroad or have secured admission to pursue degree courses should be given some grace period or deferments by respective universities. I would like to quote a famous saying of Nelson Mandela “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. The role of education is very imperative in transforming generations. There is a dire need to make the concrete decision in this matter, otherwise the situation will exacerbate the frustration and anxiety among the students.
—The writer is Lecturer at COMSATS, Islamabad.

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