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Panel Discussion on “Higher Education in COVID Era: Challenges and Opportunities”

NIP Alumni Association organized a panel discussion titled “Higher Education in COVID Era: Challenges and Opportunities” on January 4th, 2022. The purpose of the webinar was to reflect on how COVID has affected higher education and what key challenges academicians, students, and institutions had to face during COVID and in its aftermath as well. This discussion was moderated by Ms. Hafsa Khalil Toor (Ph.D. Scholar, NIP)

President of NIP Alumni Association, Dr. Tanvir Akhtar welcomed all the esteemed panel members.  While sharing his experience of working in a leading private sector university, he shared that COVID created a lot of confusion. Educational institutions were not prepared nor well equipped to deal with the technological advancements that emerged as a need of the hour with the onset of COVID. The campus management system was not functioning properly. Both students and teachers were finding it hard to shift to the online mode of education. Because of the financial burden on families, it was a challenge for private sector universities to get new admissions.  Adding to this financial burden there were repetitive demands by students of either complete or partial wave off of fee. While sharing all these experiences, Dr. Tanvir added that when we now look back we realize that there were some positive aspects as well. Because of all these circumstances, we incorporated IT into our teaching programs. Previously we never thought that IT can be used in an effective manner for higher education. Now both government and universities are planning to make distant learning online programs a constant feature of both public and private sector universities.

Prof. Dr. Anila Kamal (Vice-Chancellor, Rawalpindi Women University) added to the discussion that very often we appreciate the role of health care systems. But while doing that we often forget that educational institutions also played a commendable role despite the limited resources. Especially IT professionals worked really hard to assist and guide both students and faculty to shift to online education. Despite the best possible efforts, it cannot be denied that the quality of education was affected. She highlighted that if we look at the positives, we can see that we have learned a lot. Previously it was difficult to conduct online classes but now are well equipped with resources and are confident about our capabilities as well. The meeting involving multiple stakeholders can now be arranged online. While reflecting on NIP’s achievements Dr. Anila Kamal shared that NIP arranged a very successful online conference in which many foreign professors actively participated which was not possible previously because of security reasons.

Representing Sargodha University, Dr. Najma Malik (NIP Alumni) shared that initially, their university shifted to Zoom for online teaching. She shared that students from remote areas had to face a lot of challenges due to issues related to access to the internet and connectivity. There were certain subjects like medicine, statistics, measurement, and mathematics that could not be taught online. Educational inequality already was a prime concern that became more apparent during COVID times. Economic downfall, the burden of disease, death of family members added more to the distress experienced. Despite best possible efforts students with special needs were ignored during online teaching. Adopting a three-dimensional approach can help us reflect better on education during COVID times. There are certain institutional realities that we need to accept and work on. There are needs of students that we need to cater. Lastly, we need to enhance our teacher’s competencies and need to revise our curriculum accordingly. It’s the need of the hour to take policy decisions and see how we can keep this hybrid mode of teaching intact.

Dr. Saima Ambreen (NIP Alumni) Represented the University of Baluchistan. She shared that because of the court’s decision of no online classes, the situation was more challenging for academicians in her region. Though initially, the university tried to use online mode, because of excessive concerns of students related to connectivity and internet access continuing it became a challenge. The digital divide became more apparent during this time. When universities reopened, teachers had to put an extra effort to redesign their curriculum and take extra classes to make up for the loss. Despite this, we as teachers accepted the use of technology and became more flexible in our approach to teaching.

Representing the Institute of Clinical Psychology, Dr. Sobia Aftab (NIP Alumni) agreed to the views expressed by all the panelists. She added to the discussion by highlighting that we need to prepare ourselves for the future now. We need to be more self-compassionate. By accepting the fact that vulnerabilities are inevitable we can be more flexible and set realistic expectations. We need to be more gentle and kind toward our own selves. Despite the pandemic, we need to reconsider what can be done. Though there are many uncertainties regarding pandemic, its spread, it is ending; accepting things that are beyond our control and shifting our focus to what can be done in present can help us to deal with our own uncertainties and anxieties.

Dr. Jamil Ahmed Malik (Associate Professor, NIP) represented the National Institute of Psychology. Highlighting the positive accepts he added that this pandemic helped us to realize that even with minimal resources we kept our academic institutes functional which in itself is a big achievement. Despite adversity, we did not collapse we kept the systems intact. Conventional teachers also learned that digitalization is important. They also learned to incorporate technology into teaching. With all this, there are certain challenges that we need to focus on. Quality of education has declined specifically during the COVID times. Now thinking about the future of students in the job market who have passed out during COVID is important. Job markets are competitive, so institutes need to rethink strategies that can be designed to compensate for the loss. It could include initiatives like designing short certificate courses or making up for the hours lost because of the pandemic to equip students with the necessary skills to survive and compete in the job markets.

Mr. Asif Hussain represented the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. He appreciated the view of all panelists. He encouraged that all institutions need to revisit their policies and adopt the new teaching mechanisms. He highlighted that HEC is very supportive of new initiatives and ideas. He shared that working in HEC has also been challenging during COVID times. Shifting to online mode was a great learning experience for HEC as well. While taking Dr. Tanvir Akhtar’s point of divide between natural and social sciences forward, Mr. Asif added that HEC has launched many initiatives for social sciences as well.

Prof. Dr. Rubina Hanif (Director, National Institute of Psychology & Patron in Chief of NIP Alumni Association) concluded the discussion by sharing that we need to cater to the financial needs of students in the aftermath of COVID 19.  We as psychologists need to design modules and training workshops for both students and teachers to enhance values, academic motivation, and stress management. Initiatives like funding opportunities can be of great help in this regard. Rather than working on intervention, we need to move a step ahead and design preventive strategies by specially addressing the needs of college students o that they are well prepared before coming to universities. Dr. Rubina Hanif shared that being Centre of Excellence in Psychology, we as an institute will welcome any new idea, initiative, or collaboration to improve the quality of education in post COVID times. In the end, she extended her gratitude to all the worthy panelists for their valuable and insightful discussion.