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‘Provision of education now depends on technology and innovation’

We need to forget about the way education was delivered in the pre-COVID19 era, we can’t and must not go back to the old state, said Sajjeed Aslam, head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Pakistan.

The ACCA hosted a series of conversations with representatives from higher education, schools, corporate sector and education technology providers from Pakistan, the Middle East, Europe and the US.

The experts largely agreed that the adoption of digital technologies for education has been a discussion for a while, the question has always been ‘when and how’. “With COVID19, circumstances have forced the education sector in Pakistan to showcase either its readiness or a lack of it.”

The conversation was divided into three focus areas: the higher education, school systems, and the technological considerations, allowing experts to carefully assess the sweeping effects of COVID-19 on learners of different backgrounds and review the availability of technology to support a contingency plan.

It was pointed out that despite the lack of preparedness, the majority of private sector educational institutes were quick in their response and were successful in restoring learning using online methods. However, a lot needs to be done to provide an ideal environment to learners and enable effective assessment of their progress.

The education leaders urged the government to ensure the availability of fast internet connectivity across Pakistan to support their ambitions of introducing new models of blended learning that are not exclusive to students living in large cities only.

It was also highlighted that online delivery is pointless if institutes don’t move to online assessment. Options like online exams and remote invigilation were also discussed. “Under remote invigilation, exams are taken online and supervised remotely by a live invigilator. There is a thorough system of checks involving biometrics, artificial intelligence and recording – rigour, security and integrity are paramount.”

Commenting on the future trends in the education sector, Lee Rubenstein, edX Executive Vice President, said: “The world is moving to stackable, modular education in which you focus on the immediate learning needs of a learner, unlike current degree programmes in which we teach a long string of courses. The business model of the future in education is to develop lifelong learners in which the delivery of learning is omnichannel, making it more accessible for everyone to learn on the go.”

Sharing the perspective and experience of higher education institutes in Pakistan, Dr Sadia Nadeem, Dean Fast School of Management, National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, said: “We even intend to retain online learning post-COVID-19 and the teachers have to embrace blended learning as a new normal. HEC’s guidelines for faculty readiness to teach online are very useful. In online learning, there’s also a need for a change in the university-student contract as the onus of learning is more on students and they have to self-motivate themselves to progress. Also, the government needs to ensure there’s access to reliable internet in every part of the country.”

Commenting on the readiness of teachers at schools, Ali Ahmad Khan, Beaconhouse School System Chief Operating Officer, said: “It’s easier to train teachers to use a certain technology, but the bigger challenge is to grasp the online pedagogy. But we foresee that it’s a temporary challenge and we expect that in the next three to four months all our teachers will be fully trained to teach online.”

Hasan Azhar, HRSG Group CEO, shared the employers’ perspective and offered exclusive insights into how the current disruption will affect the job market in Pakistan. “In an environment in which everyone’s working from home, employers are starting to realise that almost the same amount of productivity can be achieved by employing tech-savvy, remote workers. This will have a knock-on effect on our education models to prepare students for a more digital future. In the long term, employers will be more receptive of the talent coming from hybrid learning systems if not 100 per cent online,” he said.

Commenting on the ACCA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ACCA’s country head Sajjeed Aslam said: “Our core value has always been to open access to quality education to people of all backgrounds in all circumstances, over the years, we’ve been spending considerably to ensure flexible delivery of our qualifications. So, it was more of hitting the ground running for us when it came to teaching online during the current pandemic. However, the disruption in exams has made us to look at solutions such as exams at home with remote proctoring. As a forward-thinking organisation, we are blazing the trail here and intend to pilot remote exam-taking in certain countries as early as June this year.”

The panellists who shared their professional insights included Ali Ahmad Khan, Chief Operating Officer, Beaconhouse School System; Reza Ali, Director of Professional Education, ACCA; Dr Sadia Nadeem, Dean Fast School of Management, National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences; Hasan Azhar, Group CEO, HRSG; Fazeela Gopalani, Head of Middle East, ACCA; Attiya Noon, School Improvement Partner, The City School; Sarah Concoran, Director of e-Assessment Transform & e-Delivery, ACCA; Lee Rubenstein, Executive Vice President, edX; Dr Farrah Arif, Founder & CEO, EDTechWorx; and Almas Abbas Ali, Head of Education-South, ACCA.

“Given the timely nature of these discussions and growing interest among educationists, parents and students, these online sessions garnered massive viewership and participation. Over 50,000 people viewed these live sessions on Facebook and over 700 questions were asked in the comments.

ACCA believes that this pandemic has also given us an opportunity to come together and rethink and redefine the future of education. Its standing as a global super-connector uniquely positions it to take the lead on such issues of public good and bring together important stakeholders. Using its power of connections and rich professional insights, they intend to continue engaging conversation leaders to facilitate future thinking and recommend forward-thinking solutions,” a statement said.

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