KARACHI: Pakistanis place a lot of value in US education, and considering that online classrooms will inevitably become the norm in the next ten years, distance learning opens a doorway to opportunity and can help compensate for the shortcomings of our education system.
These views were expressed by CalPak Education Services President Anila Ali, in an interview with The Express Tribune.
Many students find it difficult to pursue higher education after their bachelors. Family commitments, monetary pressures, cultural barriers and other logistical concerns can make even the thought of attaining a Master’s degree or vocational training a source of stress. CalPak along with California Southern University, also known as CalSouthern, offers a solution to these problems.
CalPak Education Services is an alliance of Californian Americans and Pakistanis. It began as an initiative to educate children in lower income communities and revamp schools to provide better quality education with a safe environment to the children. Now, it aims to provide an accessible and affordable way for Pakistani students to get a degree from United States of America (USA). For this, the initiative has partnered with CalSouthern, an online university offering degrees in psychology, business, law, criminal justice and nursing at the associate, bachelors and doctoral level. It is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
CalPak’s first project included adopting a semi-government school and improving the way it was run. It was a success and the enrolment increased from 30 to 390 students. Then they tried to work with a public school. Needless to say, it was a difficult task, but they pulled through. The school located in Shireen Jinnah Colony that they adopted was infested with many wrongs. CalPak was again successful, and according to Ali, they managed to create a friendly environment for the children, a place that was conducive to learning. The school now offers quality education to the students with a focus on Mathematics, Science, Art and Computers. They also plan to introduce a mentorship programme till matriculation level for the girls.
CalPak is based in California and through these projects they help promote a soft image of Pakistan in the US. This is how Anastasia Selberis, Vice President of Global Relations at CalSouthern, came to be affiliated with their projects.
Selberis told The Express Tribune that she began her journey as a research intern at CalPak, which was focused at the time on primary and secondary education. That is how she came to know the Pakistani diaspora and gained familiarity with their education system. She learned how it prepared them for higher education and came to understand what their needs were in education. She has over three years of experience in Pakistani business and educational projects. Thus, when she joined CalSouthern she began managing the Pakistan projects.
In response to a question regarding the challenges she faced, Selberis said that they faced two-fold challenges at the student level and from the university as well.
Selberis said that online universities are new and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in Pakistan seemed reluctant in recognising the online certification. She added that it was only a matter of building credibility and soon, she hoped, HEC would recognise such universities.
Selberis also said that there were similar problems in convincing students. She adds that the degrees are accredited and the courses can be easily transferred throughout US universities. For example, a person can study a year online from the comfort of their homes and then finish the final year in the US if they wish to. This is important as many students cannot afford to gain an education in the US and sometimes they cannot move away to another country. With CalSouthern, there are no travelling costs and no accommodation costs. Further, the fee structure is relatively cheap, compared to other US universities. The varsity also does not have an entrance exam, although a certain level of fluency in English is required.
She further said that their degrees in nursing and criminal justice could really help students as there were limited programmes offering education in this field.
University education is not limited to the classes that one takes there but the social experience one gains, which an online education cannot compensate for. When asked how CalSouthern could offer that, Selberis replied that the programme was aimed for graduate level and above, for people who have already gained the exposure at the undergraduate level.
Now at home
She added that people, especially in Pakistan, are community-oriented and have a lot of social responsibilities. Because of this, they can’t move to another place or at times quit their work to study. For this, CalSouthern is the right choice because of the flexibility it affords. The courses are eight weeks long and a person can enrol in a course at the end of each month. If they think they can handle the workload then by the end of the next month, they can enrol in another course. There are no semester divisions and people can work at their own pace.
Selberis said that like all education systems, Pakistan’s also had its weaknesses. These could be overcome through collaborations and for this, they are working with universities and businesses in Pakistan.
CalSouthern can even offer tailor-made courses depending on the varsity’s requirement, said Selberis. For example, if a university cannot offer certain courses due to a lack of funds or faculty, CalSouthern can offer the course and the university can enrol their students in those courses. In fact, they are especially focused on offering capstone thesis to students at graduate and post-graduate levels. Research is an essential part in academics but unfortunately not much is being done in this area. With the capstone programme, students will be able to gain exposure into research strategies and learn to apply them.
Since the programme is geared towards the learning adult, they are collaborating with businesses to help them upgrade their employees’ skillset. For this, CalSouthern tailors courses specific to the needs of the employees.
She added that all the courses are accredited and the students can make it count towards a degree programme as well.