The year 2020 will be a memorable part of our life in different terms. This year has given the challenges and so many opportunities and setbacks in our life. This also applies to those who are seeking and providing formal education through various institutions. Due to COVID19 and lockdowns, life came to a standstill, including the teaching and learning activities. Except for very few institutions/colleges/Universities were prepared to accept the challenge of moving immediately towards the online or virtual learning approaches. Neither the IT department nor management or teachers were skilled and mentally prepared to shift to digital learning immediately. I am witnessing several academics who are still not well versed with computer technologies and use them confidently. Thus training was arranged, and teachers were prepared to conduct lectures, tutorials, and even virtual field trips. It worked out nicely for some, but each day one would hear the faculty’s complaints blaming either the power failure, poor internet or pressing the wrong key or getting stuck somewhere. In that context, probably the students were at an advantage, as they were the passive audience and least bothered about the attendance or sitting on a desk/table and be dressed or not. Of course, there was a lot of cheating by just joining the class and disappearing and watching the lectures conveniently. Some teachers also tried the multiple or best choice questions, and the students who could not pass or even attempted came up with a novel excuse of having problems with the internet.
This learning process has been going on throughout the year with varied problems but managed quite nicely in many places. Now comes the time of final examinations. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan announced that the various universities could organize the exams according to their choices, i.e., online/virtual or physically attending the exam hall. That appeared to be an easy process but has turned into an ugly face. The student started the process, including grappling with security people and demanding online exams as the classes were conducted online.
Conducting online exams appears to be a valid argument by the students, especially when HEC has also allowed it. So why are the universities not conducting those online exams? Is it the stereo-typing that students will be cheating, especially on the pretext that even in the physically appearing exams, they have been resorting to cheating. The online approach is much easier!! There are many innovative ways that students can cheat, though there are solutions to address this. A study conducted by McAfee, an online security software manufacturer, found out that one in three students in the USA used mobile phones or other connected devices such as smartwatches to cheat in exams.
Rather than seeking solutions, the Universities are becoming part of the problem. The Universities are also not prepared or willing to take up that challenge to get themselves at par with international standards for digital technologies. In a country where most of the Universities are still using (rather abusing) the papers by distributing notices, memos, invitations, and so many other purposes, it will be a prudent decision to move towards “paperless” approach supporting the climate challenges. In many of the discipline computer knowledge and hands-on experience is not part of the learning process for both the students as well as teachers. This is further compounded by the fact that we ( I am talking about highly paid professionals, such as Medics, Engineers, Chartered Accountants and so on) are never taught about both written and verbal communication skills and how to be absorptive to the new technologies, especially working digitally. The argument of students being morally corrupt is partially valid. But we need to be mindful of the fact that the teachers and management of universities must be equally blamed. Have we ever tried to share moral knowledge with our students?? How many have taken any concrete steps to stop the cheating?? And above all are we ready to shift to the online approaches as and when needed. This pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us. Mind it. This may be the beginning of so many other pandemics and emerging infectious diseases according to epidemiological transition Getting into digital technology is the need of the time, disregard of the field of profession or practice. Perhaps, it is also high time that the educators/educationists also discuss the alternative to rote learning and just conducting the exams, which usually assesses the memory and maybe some other skills. In a time where equality and the standard of education are moving towards a downward spiral in Pakistan, these challenges have to be addressed.