By Hamid Khan Wazir
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: In response to a number of complaints regarding online classes in some universities, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has asked for detailed information on these courses in order to inspect the quality of the content, delivery, and connectivity.
In a statement, the HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri said that if a university is found to be lacking in capacity to deliver good quality online lectures, they will be directed to halt such lectures until the requisite conditions are met.
The HEC is monitoring the developing situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and is in contact with university leadership to identify areas where support would be needed to minimize academic disruption. Contingency plans have been drawn for various scenarios. If the current restrictions on movement are extended beyond May 31, all universities will have to resort to online education.
To avoid system problems from a single “big bang launch”, the HEC has allowed digitally advanced universities to start offering online courses as soon as they are ready. However, clear instructions have been given that the quality of education should not suffer at any cost. In case a university needs some time to establish its learning management system, they will have until May 31 to do so.
It is pertinent to mention here that HEC has been working with universities to minimize the impact of the lockdown of universities on academic activities. To this end, three specialized committees have been established to help arrange IT facilities, software, tech support, and curate substantive online content.
In the meantime, all public sector Universities have been provided free access to Microsoft Teams software in order to facilitate online meetings and discussions.
The HEC and Microsoft have been working together to ensure the smooth introduction of this platform.
The HEC has also collected information in regard to the concerns raised in social media. On the Internet access issues, consultations are in place with Internet service providers Telcos, and software experts in order to identify solutions.
Similarly, universities have been asked to arrange training for their faculty members on the best practices in online instruction.
The HEC’s COVID-19 Technology Support Committee has prepared a guidance paper to assist the senior leadership of Universities in easing the transition to virtual instruction. The paper provides the minimum technology requirements and recommendations on the choice of digital platforms for the University.
Universities have been asked to ensure that the individual faculty members share their course outline/s and required reading materials with their students through the online learning management systems.
The HEC is also collecting information and data from universities to develop a national knowledge bank, namely a repository of online courses and educational materials.