September 21, 2022

Distance learning

The Covid pandemic has caused the closure of schools, colleges and universities across the world for the past two years. He also highlighted the importance of quality open distance learning.

Over the past two years, the home-study phenomenon has become a norm through both live interactive lectures and recorded video lectures that have been available for two decades but have never been widely used.

When I was Federal Minister for Science and Technology, then founding President of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) from 2000 to 2008, I realized the importance of distance education in a country with limited resources like Pakistan. So I have established a virtual university headquartered in Lahore to provide quality distance education to colleges and universities. We also placed a satellite at 38 degrees east in space and made a transponder available to the university to facilitate distance learning.

After getting permission from MIT, we created a mirror website of MIT OpenCourseware in Pakistan and gave its free and easy access to universities in the country. In a significant initiative, all MIT computer science courses have been verified, modified to meet our needs, copied onto 10,000 CDs, and distributed free of charge to all computer science departments at the university through the kind efforts of Professor Naveed Malik, the rector of the Virtual University, providing a historic boost to computer science education in the country.

Pakistan thus became the first country in the world to use MIT OpenCourseware in this way. When I was the federal minister in charge of the information and telecommunications division, I flew to Hong Kong to meet the CEO of Intel at an international conference and persuaded him to train 25 000 teachers in 70 districts of Pakistan. These students also had access to Khan Academy courses. Intel has also installed internet kiosks at all major airports in Pakistan free of charge, a facility that was not available at most European and US airports.

These Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are now offered by hundreds of leading universities in the United States, Europe, and Australia and are widely used to provide quality education through distance learning. Stanford, Harvard, Yale, University of California and other universities offer tens of thousands of these courses, many of which can be accessed at www.videolectures.net.

London-based FutureLearn is a digital education platform founded in December 2012 by Open University and SEEK Ltd. It now includes around 200 UK and international partners and offers thousands of courses in many disciplines in English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Chinese. . Similarly, Udemy, founded in May 2010, is an American online learning platform that offers 196,000 courses to 52 million students with 68,000 instructors teaching in more than 75 languages. There were more than 712 million course registrations.

Coursera created by Stanford University has 92 million users with around 150 universities offering some 4,000 courses on the platform. Khan Academy was founded in 2008 by Salman Khan. It is also a US-based company that offers free school and college level practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard. It has around 80 million users and its videos on YouTube have been viewed around 2 billion times.

About 3,000 Khan Academy courses have been translated into Urdu through the colossal efforts of Bilal Musharraf, and they are now available on the Khan Academy website as well as www.lej4learning.com.pk, the first integrated version of the MOOCs. This website was created by us at the Latif Ebrahim Jamal Center for Scientific Information located within the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) at the University of Karachi. This exciting initiative allows individuals from all over the world to benefit from tens of thousands of excellent courses without registration or payment.

These free courses have created a positive international image of Pakistan. ICCBS has been designated as a Center of Excellence by many international organizations including UNESCO, WHO, World Academy of Sciences (TWAS, Italy), COMSATS and OIC. Hundreds of foreign scientists come to this institute every year, and its faculty members have received 19 civil awards so far.

In order to promote open distance learning, the Higher Education Commission is now planning to introduce quality distance learning in some universities, and an Open Distance Learning (ODL) policy has been prepared to be implemented. implemented. According to this policy, universities offering distance learning must ensure that a robust learning management system (LMS) is first implemented, which is capable of hosting course content, ensure effective student-teacher interactions through a properly managed mechanism for question-and-answer sessions as well as assignment grading and feedback. Details of other requirements in terms of quality of courses offered, bandwidth needed, etc. have also been defined.

To promote distance learning in universities, the Technology Driven Knowledge Economy Task Force, of which I was vice-chairman, approved a Rs 6 billion project for the Virtual University. This is currently being implemented and provides a wonderful opportunity for colleges and universities in Pakistan to introduce an integrated system of education so that our students can benefit not only from their own teachers but also from the faculty members of the best universities in the world.

Despite the efforts made by HEC from 2002 to 2018 to foster faculty development and send thousands of students abroad for doctoral and post-doctoral studies, we still suffer from an acute shortage of qualified professors. There are only about 12,000 professors with PhDs for 1.4 million students in the higher education sector. That’s a dismal ratio of one doctoral-level faculty member for every 120 students. The ratio is 1:6 at the University of Cambridge and 1:3 at the National University of Singapore.

We need at least another 100,000 professors with PhDs, which will cost tens of billions of dollars. The answer is to take advantage of available MOOCs and integrate them into school, college and university courses and conduct exams based on these course materials. The Higher Education Commission can play a crucial role in achieving this.

The author is the former federal minister of science and technology and former founding president of HEC. He can be contacted at: [email protected]