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The nightmare that online classes have become in Pakistan

The nightmare that online classes have become in Pakistan

Anonymous
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Almost a month ago, I was at my university dorm room, packing only a week’s worth of clothes-how wrong I was. I should’ve emptied my dorm room closet because what I’d thought would be a week long break turned into an infinite nightmare.

Now I’m at home. I sleep at 5 am and get up at 3 pm; this is the new normal. Only three months ago I would’ve given anything to do nothing but sleep in, now I would do anything to wake up for an 8 am class. Doing nothing and sleeping all I want quickly lost its charm.

I miss going to university, I miss my friends and I had never thought I’d say this but I miss studying. While there seems to be no solution for the first two of my afflictions, the third problem was solved by the swift introduction of online classes and that is how this never ending nightmare began. This is not my exhausted, frustrated-self talking-because she’s got two assignments pending and a ton of readings left to do. Or maybe it is. 

My frustration and anger-actually every student’s anger right now–is valid. This is not what my spring semester was supposed to be like. 

For me, and for thousands of students across the country, this was supposed to be a short break after which we’d all go back to interacting with brilliant minds whose classes we can’t get enough of; struggling to write assignments to save our grades after missing deadlines and bunking; engaging in never ending conversations over barely edible food from mess; roaming around the campus at night holding hands with our best friends and whining about how badly we all need a break.

Even though the loss of a spring semester cannot be compensated, this pandemic has taught us more than a few life lessons. Thousands of people have undergone the wrath of sudden lockdowns; amidst the loss of life and livelihood, it is nothing but my privilege to be able to stay at home with a full stomach. But I do feel a sense of loss and mourning for what my friends-and students like us-will no longer be able to experience.

And while I question my privilege, university administrations remain as detached and true to capitalist form as ever.

Universities in Pakistan have insisted upon maintaining the continuity of the online teaching-learning process. On paper it seems like the best solution to keep students engaged with education, but in reality, despite the modern world we live in, proper online classes are a utopian idea. We live in an unequal world, so when universities say they’ll continue teaching online, they are making a sweeping generalisation that all students belong to the same social, economic and political strata.

The belief that it is possible for everyone to continue education online is flawed. But one would think that video lectures on Zoom and Google Hangouts, and free access to JSTOR is synonymous with some utopian style of teaching – it isn’t.

Students from far off areas in Pakistan don’t have any access to internet or the technological means to make assignments and submit them. Students like myself, who had gone to another city to study had forgotten to pick up notes and books.

How do I mail assignments, when I don’t have a steady Internet connection, course-books, and readings with me?

This is not to say that professors in universities are entirely ignorant to the limitations students are facing, but there is a significant pressure on students nonetheless to go about assessments and coursework as per usual.

Besides, the students who live in abusive and patriarchal households don’t have the privilege to fret over grades and submission deadlines; especially women who chose to study in another city to escape the conservative and controlling snares of their families. For them, the lockdown can be a severe trigger for anxiety and in some cases, even trauma. Both urban and rural households expect the women of the house to do the daily chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry and so on. You’d sit down for an online class and while it’s going on a voice would come, “Beta bhai ko pani la do.” Many of you wouldn’t even reply with I’ve got a class and would get up and do the tedious chore. But some of you would and you being a women you’d get shot down with, “Han han pata hai kinti perhai ker rahi ho. Agay shadi hi kerni hai tumhari.”

This is not only troubling in terms of its sexist and patriarchal strain, but also because it practically limits how much time women can devote to education.

At a time when the world is engulfed in a fear of death, is it right to penalise students for not finishing a certain reading or mailing an assignment on time? Do all students have the privilege to buy the readings online, or the privilege of living in a region with a good internet connectivity? Do they have the mental capacity to write a 3,000-word essay?

These are some questions the administration and professors at universities need to consider before penalising students to study regularly, finish their coursework, and work hard from the comfort of their homes. But they probably won’t, because then demanding insane amount of fees would become a moot point; and the fee issue makes you realise just how exploitative and manipulative educational institutions are.

On the condition of anonymity, a student from Forman Christian College, spoke about the university asking for full fee for the semester even when no facilities are being used:

As a Formanite, I’m so embarrassed of my institution. It seems their empathy is only for show and for the most part, our admin does not cater to its students. Us going online is just another way for them to charge us and also ensure that we have our regularly scheduled semesters. It has nothing to do with our education and making sure that it isn’t effected. We’re already hearing our fellow students suffering because of their online classes. FCCU is also charging its hostilities for empty dorms. It may not be the full amount, but the students have just paid their rent with extra charges for Ramadan. Mere days after the payment, the university had to shutdown. FCCU should not be asking its students to pay for a service they aren’t even availing. Even right now, in our current climate, the institution isn’t waiving off the application fee for financial aid. They already charge us enough and during this economically fragile state, it’s imperative they show more empathy, not just “thoughts and prayers”. 

The student makes the point that she sees no use of paying for online classes that are not up to the mark. There have dozens of incidents where teachers are sending WhatsApp voice notes in the name of online classes.

As crude as it sounds, online courses are not worth the tuition we are paying and most of us do not have the internet connection to avail them. This service should not just cater to the rich. Education isn’t an elitist privilege but a right. Yes, the staff needs to be paid but I think it’s obvious that a private institution has enough funds to pay their staff. If they can erect a whole new building in a matter of months-while they work on another block-then they can pay their staff without pressurising their students. 

“Telling us you’re with us and understand what we’re going through and then informing us that our voices and efforts won’t change your mind, won’t make you postpone the fee payment deadline, won’t make you reduce our last instalment and the only thing you can do for us is not fine us for not being able to pay? That is cruel and apathetic. We don’t need your thoughts and prayers, we need you to not tell us that you’ll put our account on hold and you’ll not allow us to register for the next semester if we don’t pay up. We need you to not tell us that you understand but show us that you do. If we wait a little longer, the students will be in a better position to continue the semester, every student will be able to learn and our technological infrastructure might be in a better position to cater to us. This isn’t the time to be for-profit,” shares a third year student from FCC.

And it ins’t only one student who’s against the current system of education, many others have also voiced their issues with online classes and universities demanding full tuition.

Another student, requesting anonymity, told ProperGaanda, “In such a time of crisis where everyone is worried about whether or not they are going to live after being brutalised by COVID-19; universities, run by apathetic people, expect that students take online lectures. But don’t we need internet to take online classes? Universities, by giving online classes, are denying the fact that Pakistan has poor internet infrastructure, with only 22.2% of the total population having the privilege of being online. But “having” internet is not enough, there also needs to be sufficient speed, which we do not have. Moreover, we’re paying a handsome amount of money to take classes that we cannot access and learn from the most esteemed professors–professor Google, for one; because teachers in our universities do not know how to conduct online classes. Some teachers are teaching various concepts using WhatsApp voice notes while others are saying, “Google this topic and make an assignment.” We pay huge sums of money for quality education and we don’t want these institutions to make a joke out of our parents’ money. It’s better that we start regular classes from June or whenever the outbreak ends. Education is a basic right for all of us, not just those who have internet. We are not paying for this and these corporations, masked as institutions, will have to heed to us this time.”

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10 Comments

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    Exactly i know my class mates who are facing the same issuissueissuissues, and the worst of all is the fee. Why should we students must pay the full fee?

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