The writer is the Vice Chancellor of University of Agriculture Faisalabad. He can be reached at

Online learning: a blessing in a changed world

We can prove the online class system to be a profound alternative to the classical system of learning

Dr Muhammad Ashraf May 06, 2020
After the first coronavirus case surfaced in Pakistan in February, the government took various initiatives to contain its spread and also sought the people’s cooperation in fighting the disease.

Unfortunately, our country is already encountering several challenges, including unemployment, a lack of quality education, low agricultural productivity, low income, and ever-increasing inflation. No nation can afford to keep academic institutions closed for long. Our nation has already paid a high price owing to a lack of literacy and skilled manpower. In the modern world, a computer or a smartphone has become a necessity. Most students have access to these except for those hailing from areas wherein internet access is relatively poor.

With educational institutions closed to avert the severity of the pandemic, the alternative system of online education has been put in place to ensure students continue their studies at home.

On the directive of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC), online classes have been kicked off, enabling students to carry on their academic work. The initiative is part of the government’s plan to encourage social distancing. Tens of the thousands of students have registered in the online class system. Due to technology, the world can be accessed in a single click. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed our education system to look into the new avenues of learning.

Having discussed the need and benefits of online learning in these times of social distancing, let us now discuss some of the resources that serve as effective tools to communicate with classmates and faculty.

The Learning Management System (LMS) provides a virtual learning environment with features almost similar to those of conventional classrooms. An LMS is an integrated platform with a dashboard featuring a moderated discussion board, a course/subject section, an assignment tab and a marks/grades section among other features. Teachers place lectures on LMS for students to access at any time.

Zoomroom is also a good option to hold a virtual class in which all students come online simultaneously to attend the class and group discussions. It is designed to help bring teams closer with the help of innovative communication as well as collaboration services.

Social media serves as a convenient platform to hold online classes and study sessions. Facebook live, Google Hangout, and Skype are some effective tools to connect with classmates and faculty. The creation of YouTube channels has facilitated in updating different lectures and teaching materials which can be read anytime.

The HEC has launched a programme to ensure internet connectivity. It has inked an accord with telecommunication companies to provide cheap internet for students at subsidised rates.

Like several general universities, professional universities such as agriculture, medical and engineering institutions have also adopted all possible measures to continue the learning process through online classes. The teachers are giving online lectures while the material is also uploaded on YouTube and other social channels. Quality education is the main prerequisite to build any nation and a knowledge-based economy. With contemplation, all reading material is being certified by IT experts as online content. In some universities, appropriate training for faculty members is being arranged before teaching online courses. The faculty may conduct the mid and final examinations jointly after June 1, depending upon the situation. The students may submit their synopses online after discussion with their supervisors. In research work, where field work or labs are essential, the students can visit them with the permission of their respective supervisors after precautionary measures.

In a nutshell, if all the aforementioned steps are undertaken in letter and spirit, we can prove the online class system to be a profound alternative to the classical system of learning. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2020.

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