Online education brings opportunities and challenges

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 17, 2020
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A student takes online classes as the schools remain closed amid the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak in Cascais, Portugal,  April 14, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Humans have a strange knack of finding a solution to every problem. Sometimes they don't hit upon the right solution very quickly, but mostly they do. Creating a vaccine for COVID-19 is no easy feat, but people have been successfully addressing several other problems that suddenly appeared in the wake of the pandemic. 

As lockdowns were imposed by different countries to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, education became one of the worst hit social sectors. Millions of students have been left unable to attend their schools, colleges and universities after restrictions on movement were put in place. 

Many institutions chose to wait and see, but once it became clear that the impact of the coronavirus may be much longer than expected, teachers and education managers scrambled to address the problem. Within a short period of time, many found the best way to reach their students was by using information technology.

Reports have shown that most educational institutions are currently running online classes by using various platforms provided by social media, mobile phones and the internet. 

Initially, WhatsApp became the easiest way for educators to connect with and teach their students. Teachers started sending assignments to students who were asked to complete them and consult with the teacher if they had any trouble. Some teachers were using Skype alongside WhatsApp, creating classes and bringing all their students together online for virtual lectures. 

Meanwhile, others took to Facebook and Twitter to reach their pupils and gave them homework with deadlines for returning the work, which would then be checked and sent back with instructions.

But more helpful has been Google Classroom, as it not only helps to create an online class, but teachers can also use it to teach and assign homework. The students can submit their completed works through the online tool and get feedback in real time from their teachers.  

The most remarkable thing about all these platforms is that they are free both to institutions as well as students. This is a great help for schools which can save on electricity and utility bills, and other daily expenses which are often huge. Meanwhile, students and their parents save the cost of transportation and daily pocket money for the students. 

However, some institutions chose to purchase special software from Microsoft, called MS Teams, which is more user friendly and can be customized to cater for particular environments. Its free version is also available, but offers limited options. 

Others have built their own software and created classes in order to impart education and keep students busy during the lockdown. However, the usual free platforms such as email, Skype and WhatsApp are enough in the majority of cases for educational purposes. 

Renowned universities like Cambridge asked their affiliated schools around the world to test their students online if necessary to help assess their candidature for predicted grades at different levels as annual examinations scheduled to be held in April/May were canceled due to the pandemic.  

Various government have also been working on virtual education. Pakistan, for example, is launching a special education TV channel which will be dedicated to providing education up to higher secondary level. The radio is also being used across the country. 

Other nations like South Korea have provided the latest gadgets such as tablets to students in order to help them navigate online education. In this way, online virtual education has been on the rise due to restrictions on the movement of people and the closure of schools.  

COVID-19 may turn out to be a game-changer for the education sector, and especially for poorer nations with limited resources and an inability to construct traditional infrastructure for education. They can now embark on mass-level education programs by using free online resources. 

However, there are also certain challenges to this rise in virtual education, the most important of which is affordability. Other key questions include addressing how many people can buy gadgets and access online resources. The issue of poverty is therefore a big hurdle for millions of people across the globe in accessing online education.

Another challenge is a lack of well-trained personnel. In less developed countries, teachers may not be tech-savvy enough to exploit the latest online materials and so they should be first trained in order to leverage this opportunity. 

Governments and education authorities may also face problems as they are accustomed to the traditional system and convincing them to move to online platforms will be a daunting task.

The current trend of online teaching is a good start in addressing some of the most pressing problems for students in the short term, but fully utilizing it in the long term will require more coordinated and focused efforts. 

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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