DISTANCE education is the only valid currency in the world after the Covid-19 but Pakistan’s distance education policy is not available and Higher Education Commission’s policy is flimsy and fragile. Distance education including its virtual mode is becoming popular in the world. Almost every country has opted the distance and online classes and adopted the virtual pedagogy after the outbreak of the coronavirus remember days when I was applying for a teaching job back in 2009 in Canada and I saw an advertisement about the recruitment of a sociology online lecturer. I was skeptic and thought how it was possible to give a lecture online where there is no student and no human being present in front of a teacher. It was a boring to teach online and I drop the idea to apply for the post. However, today everyone of us is compelled to teach online. The world has realized this need back in the 19th (The University of South Africa established in 1873) and 20th century (The Open University, UK established in 1969) and Pakistan established Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) in 1974.
The Open University, UK and Open University of Catalonia are often ranked in the top 500 universities of the world. Even India started distance education in 1962 and established a Distance Education Bureau in 2013. It was misperceived that distance learning degrees were inferior as compared to physically learnt degrees. However, highly advanced countries like the UK, US, Canada and Japan are offering distance/ online degrees and it will be one of the popular modes in future. Thus, distance education became a specialized and separate field as medical, engineering, social sciences and IT are established a separate field. However, Pakistan still does not have any policy or body to establish, regulate and monitor the distance education in the country. The purpose of the distance education was to cater to the needs of those students who cannot attend the classes physically and learn from the books and distance tutors but now it became the global need with new realities of life like coronavirus. Now distance education is almost in every discipline.
Pakistan has a very few brilliant educationists or experienced professionals who have experience in the distance learning, pedagogical and leadership skills but they are hardly on the position to materialize the distance education. Medical and engineering are specialized fields but they are limited to their own fields. We hardly see anywhere else in the developed world where they were making policies for the distance education. This kind of state of affairs could hurdle the distance learning and pedagogical illusions to the millions of the students. Engineering professionals may be relevant to provide mode of learning, but do they have adequate vision, experience and relevant skills in the distance education? The distance educationist or academician could better understand the scope and mode than the medical and engineering professionals. Meanwhile, these professionals can be helpful to design a mode, but they could not provide the education policy. This is the field of a distance educationist. They may be given a chance to first formulate a distance/online education policy, manage and then lead the distance educational institutions. They can provide a vision, leadership, innovation and discovery in the distance learning. This is right time to give distance educationists a space to formulate a policy and then give them a chance to manage, lead and run those institutions.
Currently, two universities of Pakistan: Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) Islamabad and Virtual University (VU) are providing distance learning. They are providing distance and online education to the students of the remote areas with nominal charges. However, all of the traditional/general universities are compelled to provide online education. These universities are without proper training, skills, infrastructure, online connectivity and inadequate examination system. This could be done with the assistance distance learning professionals who may share experience of distance/online learning material, mode, skills, evaluation and socialization. This is beyond the approach to just provide a mode of learning with IT skills. Therefore, the Government of Pakistan should realize the need of the distance/ online learning and formulate and declare distance education a specialized field. Government of Pakistan should formulate a board under the leadership of the distance learning educationists in order to promote this specialized field. This board may also include the experts from IT, social, natural, biological, medical and engineering fields to formulate a policy. They should formulate vision, mission and objectives of learning and pedagogical skills for every field starting from the primary, secondary and tertiary education including vocational trainings through distance and online learning. Meanwhile, this policy should not be short sighted but it should cater the needs of decades if not a century. Covid-19 outbreak may be an early warning to avoid the more dangerous viruses. Therefore, education policy response may be faster, reliable, smart and adequate. Pakistan must realize to formulate distance education policy and implement in timely manner and fashion so that the future generation can be served effectively.
—The writer is Chairman, Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.