Education plays a vital role in the socio- political and economic progress of a nation. Parents and governments in Pakistan have long faced daunting challenges in provision of quality and affordable education.
Some of the problems include limited budgetary allocations, low enrollment rate, high dropout rates, and difficulty in provision of infrastructural facilities to far-flung areas. In rural areas, good quality schools and colleges are scanty, ghost schools are aplenty, and faculty lacks the skills for proper instruction.
But with technology, far-flung areas can be provided with modern educational infrastructure. The need of the hour is to find imaginative ways to apply technology to specific challenges across the education value-chain. One solution is to introduce digital textbooks in Pakistani schools.
Institutes all around the world are moving towards providing their students with PCs and hand-held gadgets.
This has helped them overcome the costly problem of updating their text-books time and again. The gadgets can be used by teachers for marking attendance, lecture delivery, and conducting quizzes. The students can benefit from them by accessing digital books and online learning material along with submitting their homework, quizzes and assignments. Such an ecosystem would also familiarise our students with the uses of technology for seeking knowledge, making them tech-savvy at an early age. Some students are also deprived of internet and technological devices at home.
Therefore, if the schools can provide them with such facilities on campus, that can help bridge the digital divide from the outset. The latest advancements in electronic devices have made them quite affordable. Hence, institutions can devote the budget allocated to the textbooks’ up-gradation toward the provision of hand-held gadgets to their students. This also offers a way out from carrying heavy school-bags that act as a deterrent for school-going children. A research conducted by the US National Institute of Health in 2006 discovered that 37 percent of children aging 11-14 reported suffering from back-ache due to carrying a heavy bag.
Additionally, this would also ease up the pressure on our forests as fewer trees would be cut to make paper for textbooks. But the challenge remains that most of the school teachers in Pakistan are not tech-savvy, let alone the students. Vigorous training sessions would be needed to train the faculty on the usage of such gadgets as only then they would be able to impart those skills in their students.
Hence, it would be a matter of time before this idea can get popular in Pakistan. Another major hurdle, in this regard, is the power shortfall in our country, because online gadgets, despite being wireless, depend on some power to work.
The good news is the advent of 3G and 4G, which offer a great opportunity for students in rural areas. As the latest mobile communication standards allow mobile phones, computers and other portable electronic devices to access the internet wirelessly, students will have more and more opportunities to go online and seek complementary
education solutions, such as free online video tutorials.
This presents a great opportunity for the introduction of e-learning and blended learning in Pakistan. E-learning is the use of electronic media, information and communication technologies (ICT) in education. Whereas, blended learning
is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content alongside textbooks. While still attending a “brick-and-mortar” school structure, face-to-face classroom methods are combined
with computer-mediated activities.
Such advancements in the field of education pose to clean-sweep conventional education methods. These concepts
are gaining immense popularity worldwide and have made access to acquiring specialized knowledge a piece of cake.
Vocational education training is another area where e-learning can also be made use of. These institutes all around the world are giving specialization trainings to farmers to increase their crop yields via audio-visual lectures.
Therefore, to enhance Pakistan’s global competitiveness in agriculture and textile sectors, it is pivotal that the farmers be provided with technical education and vocational training services using the same methods. Then, growing broadband connectivity can also boost self-learning.
As per the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning in US higher education, conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, enrollments in online courses increased by 21 percent during the year, whilst on campus enrollments increased by 2 percent. This meant an increase of over one million students in online courses. Over 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2010. These statistics suggest that e-learning is the future of education and leave no doubt about the potential of such initiatives taken at home.
Our philanthropic organisation, Sabaq Foundation, has taken a step in that direction via its website www.sabaq.pk. The website is an online education portal through which students may gain access to free video tutorials at home. Sabaq’s website has so far covered O-level Math,and Chemistry. Matric syllabus for Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology is also available along with problem solving question. Nowadays, video tutorials of 1st year and 2nd year are being made.
Due to pent-up demand for such portals, the website has over 4 million video lectures have been delivered to 5 hundred thousand students. Had the same number of students opted for after-school tuitions costing around Rs. 2000 per month to each student (a conservative estimate), it would have cost their parents Rs. 700 million.
Such blended learning platforms offer an alternative to seeking after-school tuitions as students can gain access to
top-quality video tutorials right at their homes. Moreover, students who are facing difficulty understanding the concepts at school need not worry anymore. Girls who cannot go to tuition centres after school can greatly benefit
from this platform.
However, pilot projects for e-learning can only be successful in Pakistan once the students are well-acquainted
with the use of technology. With the knowledge-based economies making waves on the road to economic progress, it has become extremely important for Pakistan to acquaint its students and teachers with the latest technological developments in the field of education. Only then can our country make a leap forward in terms of economic progress.