MARDAN: Abdullah, 25 years old, belong to the backward areas of Buner district, who had submitted his every fee on time for each semester and has been bearing the cost of living in hostel near Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) – A university established in 2009. He is doing graduation from the University in Mardan in the field of Journalism and mass communication and has been very passionate about education. He was very optimistic of completing his education and was looking forward to a successful career in media but in March the country was struck by Coronavirus that forced the government to closed down educational institutions including his university.
The countrywide lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic, paralyzed educational institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, hitting hard student’s education and future hopes. The Universities were not ready how to react to this sudden pandemic in terms of delivering education as it was for them the first time the University faced such a critical situation.
Unlike others, AWKUM immediately responded to the challenge and introduced an online Learning management system within two months of the closure to impart education.
AWKUM was established in 2009 and offers education in 30 disciplines in Arts and Humanities, Social, Basic and Applied Sciences at Undergraduate level, Graduate and Postgraduate levels. The University had taken this major step to save students’ time and future by taking benefit of technological advancement. The e-learning system offers pupils, teachers and admin staff of the university with notifications, assignments, fee records, class schedules, and teachers’ lectures.
“I am in last fall semester and I have been using LMS (Learning management system) application software since its introduction in June by the University and I regard it as a very a positive initiative, with a standard application having simple and easily understandable features”, tells Abdullah to voice of KP.
Basically, a learning management system (LMS) is a software application for documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, and training programs, or learning and development programs. The learning management system concept emerged directly from e-Learning.
As coronavirus hit humanity, no one was allowed to get out of home, even the closest relatives such as parents, siblings, children, and spouses. They were told not to shake hand and keep a distance of six feet. At that time Abdullah believed that the pen, student and teacher relationship should emerged as stronger and the education shouldn’t stop. LMS acted for him as a miracle for continuing his education.
He was happy with online learning system but it seems his problems never stopped. “I faced challenges of load shedding, network blockade and signals breakout. The mental stress of charging cell phone and laptop all the time was there to exhaust my energy. In addition, there was no library and books at my disposal, therefore I have to depend on the internet source for difficult assignments” said Abdullah.
Half of the population in AWKUM belongs to underdeveloped areas of northern Pakistan with lack of basic mobile signals and internet facility. As LMS is an online application software, it needs continuity of internet accessibility for taking class on mobile or laptop. The upper zones and FATA of the province due to lack of proper internet infrastructure have minimum access to the internet and face difficulties until and unless they move to plain areas where signal strength is powerful or sitting under an internet tower.
Another student of AWKUM, Mr. Asif, 22 years old and 5th semester JMC student while sharing his opinion with Voice of KP, said that he was worried by the LMS as he didn’t know what it is and how does it work and how to use it. The reason he said was that he was completely new and doesn’t how to use it. Apart from that while using it at home, there were sounds of people talking, working, kids crying, cattle noises. They acted as a communication barrier, and he observed that his concentration was very low.
“Another issue I face was the family mindset that class is always in the classroom, they even don’t know about the class on mobile, therefore, they always get angry that you are using Facebook or wasting time on mobile for entertainment and not performing domestic work”, he added
Besides all these challenges and hurdles, it was a huge lifetime achievement of AWKUM to introduce LMS application software in strict lockdown status quo and keep running the learning and education process.
While expressing opinions on LMS introduction for the first time, females appreciated the online learning opportunity. Ms. Amna the senior and recently graduated student of AWKUM tells, “I find it positive because I was not bound to go to university premises and attempt the paper in front of the teacher”. Whereas criticism added by Ms. Rida, “I felt teachers only read notes on LMS, I wish teachers should provide engage students rather than only reading notes”.
While teachers and students both were affected by lockdown, teachers confront challenges to involve students in online classes. Ms. Noor ul Huda, visiting lecturer at JMC AWKUM expressed a state of unhappiness and displeasure, “as in my class students behave non-seriously. Some were ‘deliberately’ creating noise and because of it I had to make them mute and separate the timing for question answers. However, for tackling technical issues I refer them to office assistance.”
Although LMS was a timely decision, it still lacks fundamentals. Students suggested updating LMS that can even run on slow internet networks, introducing the feature of displaying attendance, results of assignments, quizzes, and exams. To solve this, university introduce an online computer checking system of exams by uploading answer keys once.
Expert and computer-system engineer Asad Aftab while observing the LMS activity presented a view that, “LMS can be improved by adding different database for answer saving and keeping student result and attendance record and make it visible at their home page”.
To improve LMS and encounter the lack of awareness, the university should take initiative to conduct sessions, training, and webinars to inform students of LMS advantages, and usage. Also, teachers should be trained to use it effectively to deliver lectures. Pandemic is nowhere to end soon as no vaccine has yet been made to fight this disease therefore, it can hit humanity again anytime if protocols made by the government are not observed in the educational institutions.