Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
Dr Amin Rehmani

Covid 19 in its second and third waves has become more dangerous and deadlier and is spreading at an accelerated pace. In response, schools have been mostly closed for most of the time during the academic year 2020-21. Although online classes have been provided by universities, colleges and schools in various parts of the country, this has not been a common phenomenon. Most government schools and some private schools have not been able to provide online learning facility due to a lack of proper IT infrastructure available to them. Parents may not have been able to provide electronic gadgets to their kids due to poverty or due to lack of resources, given that they may have more than one child studying at different levels. Such parents and students had to rely on televised lessons broadcast by PTV and Radio channels. But due to lack of time (one hour per class per day or so, how much support could children get? How many of them may have watched these lessons regularly? How much support parents may have been able to provide to their children through private tuitions? These are important questions that need due consideration.

The affluent private educational institutions such as schools have been able to provide online classes either regularly (5 days a week, four to five hours a day) or twice or thrice a week for a similar number of hours with 40 to 50 minutes periods per subject. Priority has been given to Maths, Science, English and in some cases Social Studies, with fewer periods per week for Islamiyat, Urdu, Art and ICT periods.

There have been other issues of having proficiency in teaching online without proper training. Although, this acute issue of lack of training was slowly and gradually addressed, online learning for primary and secondary students cannot be considered equal to face to face learning. It has hampered writing and verbal communication skills as students may feel shy in speaking in online classes, or get less opportunity to participate and or simply remain silent. Their span of concentration may have been short-timed. Since many activities chosen by teachers are done online such as quiz, comprehension, educational games etc., there has been little opportunity for children to write in their notebooks or copies or read from their text and other books. The syllabus coverage is yet another issue.   

One of the biggest hurdles in online learning has been free access to gadgets such as Ipad, laptops, or smartphones. Generally speaking, students tend to switch off their cameras, go to social media channels and watch videos or play online games. This shows a lack of maturity. Some parents indicate that monitoring children all the time has been an issue. Children are too smart to trick them. This has also hampered learning. Although children are responsible for such an attitude, a natural inclination to turn to social media and games cannot be overruled.

Load shedding and an uninterrupted supply of electricity is a major issue in our country. This creates disruptions in continuing online classes. Moreover, smart and micro lockdowns have created fear and uncertainties.

Online classes are more beneficial for undergrad and graduate students who are mature enough to understand the importance of online learning and have more span of attention time. Students who are serious about their studies may not easily get distracted by other channels of socializing during the class. If the teaching is interesting, relevant and engaging, they would likely tend to attain the full 3-hour session twice a day or during the weekends.

Now that the ministry of education has announced that examinations will take place and unlike the last academic year, students will only be promoted who appear in and pass their examinations, we need to ask this question. Should students be penalized for poor performance given all these and other issues that they face during online classes? Notwithstanding the fact, that students are responsible for their learning? Are they expected to perform as good as they would while attending face to face classes, where there a learning environment is provided and where there are opportunities for peer to peer and group learning, and to ask more questions than they probably have, during the online classes?

And what about students who have had little or no opportunities for online learning, nor of private tuition due to lack of financial support parents could provide? Although a laudable effort on part of the government, how far the televised lessons or radio lessons have been effective, relevant and interesting for children, need to be researched. There are hardly any empirical studies done for such provision in our country.

There may be some relaxation given to students for poor or not so good performance in their examination this time and their fate of promoting to the next class must not only be decided by a two-hour or three-hour examination. How far students of primary and secondary and to some extent higher secondary levels are used to online testing is yet another relevant question to ask. And what about teaching? How far it has been relevant, interesting, engaging, and based on active learning approaches? The younger children may have had little experience in performing better in online assessment.

It is hoped that due consideration will be given by the education authorities of public and head of private schools in judging students’ performance in these difficult times and circumstances.

By Dr. Amin Rehmani

The author is a writer, Educationist, PhD. from the University of London. His areas of interest include, curriculum development, teacher education, teaching and learning and assessment. His writings are available at AKU e- Commons and academia.edu

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