THESE are perilous times. The entire human race is in a state of war against an invisible, implacable and lethal enemy.

While the task of reversing the spread of the virus is urgent and hopefully temporary, the societal impacts are likely to last for generations.............

Universities reflect this dilemma. They bring thousands of people together every day, which makes them exceptionally vulnerable to the spread of the disease.

Closing down campuses is an important step to control the spread. But universities also bring knowledge together, and are the places where the solutions will be found.

No society can risk keeping universities closed for too long. The developing world universities have already paid a high price because of usual protests and mass disruptions in academic activities.

There are other reasons for the urgency. We do not know how long the crisis will last. Some studies on epidemic curve modelling estimate the lockdown may last anywhere until September, including in countries with virus trajectories and lockdown dates as the developing world.

Also, the current pandemic is likely to lead to a fundamental restructuring of the global economy, similar to those that took place after World Wars, depressions or earlier pandemics.

While it is not possible to predict the precise shape of future economy/economies, there is a near unanimity over the central role that information technology and virtual interaction will play in it.

The World Students Society must help in preparing students for the world that will emerge after the crisis has run its course, not only through instruction but also through practice.

The decision to shift to online classes has come under a lot of criticism. Some argue that students should promoted without studying or evaluation. Others complain about the quality of the courses and the connectivity challenges faced by students from remote areas....

One can understand and even forgive, the desire of some people to stay out of this struggle.

 However, the vast majority of the students and faculty members are eager to make good use of their time, continue with the education, and contribute to the national effort.

They do have concerns, of course, like others, but their demands are to address the concerns and find feasible and operative solutions. The Higher Education Commissions and Authorities the world over, especially in the developing world, have been working hard to try to find such solutions.

At this point, only the best universities and the most committed and dynamic Vice Chancellors will be able to launch a few high quality online courses.

But if preparations are taken in hand right away, others will be able to catch up by June.

In Pakistan, the HEC is assisting universities in a number of ways including arranging software and connectivity packages, curating online materials, and training programmes, building a data repository, providing guidance on quality enhancement, and setting up and adapting monitoring and evaluation systems.

Today, a digital device, be it a computer, a tablet, or a smart phone, is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Universities have to make these a requirement, and for those who cannot afford one, arrange scholarships or students loans to enable them to do so.

The time has come for the world, and as all societies, to ensure that every student has the opportunity to benefit from the vast reservoir of knowledge that is now available.........As the old saying goes, one should hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.

If lockdown instructions are lifted in the neat future ahead, universities can return to business as usual, but if there are further delays, there will be no choice except either to switch to online education or to abandon the semester [and probably much more].

The World Students Society thanks author Dr. Parvez Tahir, a senior political economist.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!