KARACHI: While several universities are trying to convert into smart campuses amid the Covid-19 crisis, the option seems to be a far cry from reality for Sindh’s biggest public varsity. It appears that after 13 years of announcement and owing to the negligence of former administrations, the University of Karachi (KU) has remained unable to provide an effective learning management system to its pupils, the need for which today appears greater than ever.
Although prolonged closure and possible extensions in the wake of the pandemic have prompted the varsity to start planning for some sort of an e-learning system, the programme is yet again faced with opposition from several faculty and staff members.
Interestingly, the same teachers who oppose the adoption of an e-learning programme by KU seem to be conducting online classes for private universities without any objection.
Projects for distance learning and Campus Learning Management System were introduced in KU during the tenure of former vice chancellor (VC) Dr Pirzada Qasim over a decade ago. He was followed by two other VCs until Dr Khalid Iraqi, the present VC, took charge last May. However, during these 13 years, no system for online classes or distance learning could be established at the university.
“I have been working on initiating efforts for establishing an effective e-learning system since assuming charge. Prof Waheed Baloch, a faculty member in the economics department, has been assigned charge of this project and has begun working on it. Lectures delivered to masters and graduate students are being recorded and the system will hopefully be ready soon,” said Dr Iraqi.
Part of the problem lies in the varying curricula being taught to the regular and private students enrolled at the university.
“Although no thought was being given to this issue previously, we are now working towards introducing a uniform curriculum while also updating the system technically. We are serious about conducting online classes and are also calling the academic council to resolve teachers’ reservations so that approval for commencing online classes can be sought,” shared the VC.
On the other hand, according to an interesting revelation, the university’s distance learning project, initiated over a decade ago, had garnered significant funds from the Higher Education Commission. However, 13 years down the line and with nothing to show, serious concerns have been raised about where the money has gone.
As per documentation, the university management had initially selected its economics department as the first to be reformed under the distance learning project. Dean of Arts Dr Zafar Iqbal was appointed as project convener while Quality Enhancement Cell director Prof Sajideen was appointed as the focal person.
A committee was set up and a meeting called on February 2011 was informed that the KU syndicate had granted approval for the distance learning programme. The meeting further decided to register and conduct examinations of economic MA students under the new system after a preparation course in the form of CDs.
However, a letter written three months later revealed that apart from the procurement of seven computers and three UPS, no work on the project had been done despite the HEC funds. The letter stated that the VC should direct Dr Iqbal to present a report at the HEC meeting.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior KU professor said that former VC Dr Muhammad Qaiser had handed over the charge of the project to a female teacher. Meanwhile, Dr Iqbal, Dr Qaiser and his finance director, who had already spent the money, continued avoiding the topic whenever asked for the HEC funds.
“Hence, the project was left hanging because the VC was not ready to spend the income generated by the varsity on the project. The only time they remembered it was when the HEC put pressure on them,” the professor told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2020.