Online teaching and smart classrooms

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Dr Muhammad Zaman
ONLINE education and learning is not new but it became a necessity in order to cope with a new challenge of Covid-19, but Pakistani youth is skeptic to this mode of learning and they hardly have any concept of smart classrooms. Outbreak of the Covid-19 brought a big shift in education and educational institution throughout the world. Western universities, especially where the weather is very cold, were offering online education. Even Pakistan is not an exception where we have Virtual University (VU) that offered a wide range of online courses and Allama Iqbal Open University offers distance learning. Especially, humanities, social sciences and management courses are part of the online teaching in VU. Meanwhile, private and a few public sector universities/schools opted this mode of teaching. Perhaps, it is early to conclude but the online system will replace the classroom learning as permicro-biologists’ research and interpretations of the emerging pandemic in future. Even if one does not buy this kind of argument of the outbreak in future, still we cannot escape from the natural catastrophes and calamities. Coronavirus may be an early warning for preparedness. It seems essential to get ready for class alternative teachings.
Online system is not only easy and cost effective, but also it is youth friendly. A young person may opt online teaching easily as compared to an elder person. However, for this online teaching adoptability, one must be clear about the need and should have created demand for oneself. It is pertinent to mention that the online teaching is more difficult for a teacher as compared to a student. A teacher must study, be ready for recording, facing technologies, creating adoptability and making a clear argumentation. The teacher may be more vulnerable to criticism as compared to the student. He/she would be responsible to not only look after the needs, demands and questions of the student, but he/she would be talk of the town if unable to deliver adequate lecture. Teachers would have to prepare quiz, questions, assignments and then be liable to present all the record to the university administration and to the public at large if posted online.
The students are advantageous in online teaching system. They have to arrange internet device, connection, a laptop/computer or can use their own cellular phone. They plug-in, connect and listen the teacher. They do not have to commute from one part of the city to another on a daily basis or avail a hostel and afford huge expenses for boarding and lodging or travelling. Students can save time. On top of this, the students have freedom to chose at what time they want to watch or listen the online lecturer if recorded. This liberty is limited for a teacher. Once the students are habitual of the system, then everyone enjoys. Transparency in teaching as well as examination is another quality indicator in the online teaching. It has been observed in Pakistan that the teachers were criticized for ill treatment, prejudice, favouritism and even in rare cases harassment. On-campus violence is another evil that jeopardized the academic culture of Pakistan. Thus, the online system can reduce many of the evils though completely may not vanish them. This teaching affects the student-teacher relationship that may reduce the dependency syndrome.
However, it has been noticed that there is resistance against the online teaching from students. The young guys, some of them, hardly visualized the demand and needs of the online teaching. They are interested only in the classroom teachings. Students argue that they are paying for classroom education. The online teaching has low credibility as per students’ manifestations. In latent, nonetheless, the students will be unable to enjoy the entertainment on campus as Pakistani universities turned to be place of entrainment. The quality teaching, education and learning is already deteriorated. Only latent function remains is the entertainment on the name of “culture and identity”. Neither teachers nor students are prepared to enjoy the quality education and bring innovations/discoveries and thereby contribute to the knowledge economy. They should have contributed in the national economic growth as it is in parts of the world. Rather, they became liability on the national economy. Government of Pakistan is paying salary and pension to the university staff. In return, hardly any university can respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Laboratories are closed, centre of excellence are shut down and departments are locked down due to pandemic — which is need of the day — but do the world class university labs and research centres are also closed like us? They are working online and engaged in research and teaching. Pakistani universities are waiting for the cosmopolitan drugs and vaccination to consume. Surprisingly, some of the students as well as staff are preparing how to resist the online teaching.
Government should invest on the online system of teaching and smart learning. Particularly, high speed internet and provision of sophisticated technology to teach must be provided on priority. They should also be encouraged to prepare smart classrooms if needed to make it functional during any pandemic or disaster. Universities should invest to build their capacity and promote high quality education and youth should realize to adopt the system. This kind of pandemic did not only reshape the society, culture and lifestyle but they also opened up new vistas of opportunity. The online teaching could be a blessing to meet the challenge of future. Pakistani youth must realize and adopt online system to meet this century’s challenges. Smart classrooms would remain the reliable currency in future.
—The writer is Chairman, Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.