Future E- Learning Prospects and Challenges: Higher Education in Pakistan

Saud Altaf
(University Institute of Information Technology) University of Arid Agriculture Rawalpindi Pakistan, saud@uaar.edu.pk

Ch. Muhammad Azam
(Department of Statistics and Mathematics) University of Arid Agriculture Rawalpindi Pakistan, azam@uaar.edu.pk

ABSTRACT
E-learning is becoming a leading delivery method in workplace-learning settings across organizations of various sectors and of varying sizes. Universities all over the world are improving their methods of education and in view of continuing education and ultimate learning as a necessary factor in teaching-learning environment and using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a medium of knowledge distribution. Usual learning has been restructuring in the form of virtual learning or web-based knowledge. However in Pakistan, where education is the most neglected area, distance and technology-based education is the slightest priority of educational universities and policy makers, and the enormous scope of this emerging educational domain is not much realized. Pakistan is facing significant challenges to meet new strains in education with its ever increasing population growth, remote and scattered populated areas, nonavailability of resources (infrastructure, expert teachers etc.) and limited funding. Regardless of these difficulties, universities and institutions are not expanding sufficient to accommodate the increasing number of students who will be looking for access to secondary and tertiary level education. Introducing web-based learning can be one of the anticipated solutions, but consecutively, it has its own inherited prospects and challenges that have already started surfacing in the few distance or e-learning universities/institutions working in Pakistan This paper presents the current common challenges and future prospects for e-learning and possible insinuations for policy and practice by assimilate significant research findings. An effort is made to open out the motivations why online distance education universities remained unsuccessful especially in developing countries, as well as rate of technology, deprived assessments and the lack of suitable commerce approaches. The discussion ends with the most vital issue of suggest solutions in higher education universities of Pakistan.

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KEYWORDS
E-learning, Challenges, Prospects.

INTRODUCTION
Challenges are natural components of any system, method, practice, etc. especially when they are newly introduced; meanwhile without challenges there are fewer opportunities for improvement. E-learning is extensively used in generally of the developed countries to endorse distance education and ultimate learning. It can be distinct as an original approach for delivering electronically interceded, elegant, learnercentered, and interactive learning atmospheres to everyone, anyplace, anytime by exploiting the internet and digital expertise in concern with instructional plan ethics. Applications and processes of e-learning comprise web-based learning, computerbased learning, virtual classrooms, and digital teamwork, where contents are delivered via the internet, audio, video tape, and conferencing through video; satellite and etc (Hedge 2004:128-145). The rapid and concentrated use of Information and Communication Technology in education in the developed countries facilitated to the establishment of more than 90% information and communication technology based universities called ‘virtual universities'. In addition, many world-leading conventional universities are now also offering some of their academic courses through various ICTs for their distant learners and established themselves as the ‘dual mode universities'. The significant launching of more than seven hundred courses from thirty seven academic disciplines as ‘Open coursewares' by Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a marvellous resource for different faculties, students and self-learners all over the world (Hedge 2004:128-145). On the contrary, the structure of ICTs in the developing or the least developed countries is very feeble and thus, concentrated use of e-learning in Distance Education is still a vision for their high education universities (Toor 2005: 67-76). In recent times, ICTs are quickly rising in some of the developing countries, and that's why, it offers a chance to consider the use of ICTs in the endorsement of Distance Education. It offers students significant benefits as well as increase access to learning, life-long learning chances, and expediency of time. Pakistan is one of the most countries in the world which population is increasing very quickly. Though the literacy rate is officially said to be 48%, but according to private survey the rate is only 42% by the end of year 2006. More importantly, the opportunity for higher education is tremendously partial in Pakistan, and therefore, even students, who can afford to finance their studies, it is very difficult to get admission into the universities due to limited capacity. Dropouts in education from primary to the university level are very high in Pakistan mainly due to economic and other social reasons. This situation is well reflecting in very high enrolment of students at Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU). Recently, ICTs are quickly expanding in Pakistan due to the deregulation of laws and policies by the Government of Pakistan. Therefore, introduction of more e-learning or ICTs may increase Distance Education in Pakistan. In Pakistan, distance learning was first commenced by AIOU in 1974 which is the first national distance learning university. However, AIOU is still using typically conventional

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one way method for delivering lectures and less far behind to apply modern interactive ICTs in delivering its courses. However by the end of year 2001 it was becoming obvious to the government of Pakistan that the targeted development was not being achieved, the major problems identified for this deficiency were: • • • • • Common features that do not allow certain people to go to other cities of Pakistan. Elevated cost of higher education especially IT education. Severe lack of high superiority faculty. Shortage of seats for the students in the higher education Universities. Higher education Universities located in the undeveloped areas.

The Virtual University started recording its lectures in January 2002 and broadcasted its first lecture on 23 March 2002. It was an immense accomplishment for the group working under the supervision of Dr. Naveed Malik, the Rector of the Virtual University. However, not enough lead-time for the research and delivery of lectures was a serious constraint, and must be addressed in the recording of next semester’s lectures (Peter T, 2000). One very important aspect of this project is the training and learning curve emerging for instructors ready to act as e-moderators for distance learning courses. Some instructors were new to the concept and took a while getting used to TV recordings and initializing web discussions. Other quality issues will also have to be ironed out. Hopefully as capacity develops in instructional design and the broadcast mode of lecture delivery, the course offerings would improve (Toor 2005: 67-76). The need of the day was to produce a large number of educated forces within the shortest possible time. This paper thus focuses the current status and future prospects and Challenges for introducing e-learning in Distance Education in Pakistan and ICT infrastructure of this country.

BACKGROUND
In prospective of e-learning in Pakistan is a significant matter for several pressing reasons. First reason, those who join work force without completing their studies due to family commitments are unable to work for studies and also to find a place in the traditional institutions of higher learning, even if some of them have strong desire to higher studies. Secondly, the vast majority of the people live in middle class. They are unable to attend the urban based universities and remain deprived of higher education despite their superior merit. Thirdly, the opportunity for higher education i.e., the places are extremely limited in Pakistan. Therefore, even those who can afford to finance their studies find it difficult to get admitted to any university. Fourthly, the tradition of child labour, childhood and early marriage in the country deprives the female population from higher education. Besides, there are some other usual factors like bodily disabilities, inaccessibility of localities, higher tuition fees in most private universities, and so on. These are the reasons for why millions of people are deprived from higher education in Pakistan despite their keen interest and eligibilities (Peter T, 2000). E-learning and

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distance education can open up the opportunities for higher education for such a vast under-privileged population. Pakistan is generously endowed with individual resources that need to be well equipped with literacy and skills to contribute to economic development, which is badly needed for this country. E-learning and distance education is expected to do a lot in this field if provided with adequate facilities and quality. There was a severe shortage of quality IT faculty in Pakistan, and the same can be said for many other developing countries. Academic world has lost a large number of qualified individuals to the software industry and this loss has not been replenished. What little faculty is left in universities of higher learning is spread out in various universities without forming a critical mass at any single point (Peter T, 2000 - Toor 2005: 67-76). Similarly, the output of qualified graduates from the various Computer Science programmes from all Pakistani IT related universities are estimated at about 4000-5000 annually approximately. Out of these, no more than 500 or so are classified as having international level proficiencies. This number needs to be drastically increased if Pakistan is to get on the IT road map. There is an immense shortage of skilled IT manpower worldwide, which is projected to increase exponentially in the coming years. Pakistan should make all efforts to benefit from this. VU aims to provide quality education to a very large number of students.

COMMON CHALLENGES OF E-LEARNING IN PAKISTAN
In spite of the importance of e-Learning to the developing countries as an important tool for the human development in the continent, e-Learning is facing an increased challenge in developing countries including Pakistan. Those challenges can be summarized as follows: • Today's best technology is not up to the level of new users' expectations. If keyboard literacy remains fundamental criterion for accessing e-learning, only a small part of humanity will be able to profit from it. In anticipation of skill becomes more reliable, the democratisation of e-learning will be complicated. The fast development of the technology is an additional source of apprehension for both e-learning teachers and student (Spodick 1996). Copyright is a lawful word relating rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works. Copyright is one of the very significant challenges for the e-Learning. How many authors, trainers and trainees know about copyright laws and the legalities of using materials owned by others and protecting the materials that they create? Authors and trainers make greater use of the Web; they face greater risks involving copyright law. Some trainers think no one will care if they use a copy of a cartoon on an overhead or include a clip from a favorite movie in their opening video. Often, no one will care if they use the materials in-house, on
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a small scale. But with the growth of the Web-based training, copyright violation is becoming a bigger issue. Any e-Learning professional, should know something about. The concern is not just that trainer/author is stealing, but also that he is being stolen from. Any content that’s put online can be easily copied and reused, greatly depreciating the value of all the hard work that has been invested in the first place. • The marketplace has in the past five years been very sensitive to the cost of equipment and access to networks. E-learning depends on hardware and software infrastructures or platforms that require constant attention. As the common situation of scientific and financial flux, setting up the implementation of new systems and skills is a precarious exercise. E-Learning desires particular specifications of the method of designing its content and also the way of receiving the content. The quality of e-Learning relies heavily on the preparation and the talent of the instructor. Instructors who deal with e-Learning should have extraordinary skills. They should be able to deal with remote learners and read their needs through their typing mode and hastily words. In addition, they should be capable of using all the new technological means of instructing, like using the web cams, the e-mail, the chatting facilities, the slides, sketches, and video & audio files. This means that they should have good typing skills, able to setup and deal with multiple programs at the same time, and deal with many learners simultaneously. Also they better have the orchestration sprit so they can manage and encourage the learners to communicate with each other through the discussion forum. On the other hand, the e-Learning learners should possess the following Characteristics: o Being able to learn independently and view learning positively. o Being able to make the best use of their time, have self-disciplined, and enjoying working alone most of the time. o Being able to clearly express them in writing. o Having the need for knowledge, but incapable of attending traditional training or education. o Being revel in solving problems. The above mentioned characteristics are very vital to the learner. Learners don’t face their instructors on daily basis; they may communicate with each other through the discussion forums through internet, or via the e-mail, virtual classroom or by using video conferencing.
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The employee situation, on the other hand, is especially critical. Very few universities can boast of adequate numbers of faculty, and even fewer would claim quality in Pakistan. Hence, the quality of education being imparted at the Bachelor’s level and higher is generally dubious.

FUTURE PROSPECTS OF E-LEARNING IN PAKISTAN
Enormous steps have been made over the past few years in enhancing the capacity for e-learning and finding ways to broaden its exposure. The move to e-learning has been supported on the demand side by elevated access levels to computers and the internet in Pakistan. The e-learning has numerous compensations in promoting distance learning in Pakistan. Some of the vital points are listed bellow: • The courses offered are containing broad diversity of courses based on IT and non-IT related courses, which is an additional advantage to attract the large number of learners from all the background. Mostly home Internet connections have not much bandwidth speed. Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan has started a program to provide high bandwidth to the Government and public and private universities and research institutes. Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan has setup a digital library containing more than 40000 reserach papers which can be accessed by the research students and teachers nationwide. The apprentice need not pay any extra amount for any up gradation on the courses once being a member. This saves apprentices times and expenses. Elevated quality Internet communications and networking will facilitate to convey high quality courses. CD-ROM training now offers movie-quality lectures by famous professors and professionals that include a variety of quizzes and assignments. People can learn the courses of their own choice at the pace suitable for them. Computers with high bandwidth internet will help to decrease the expenses as there won't be any staffing, training, and up gradation of faculties. Due to socio-economic circumstances, great figure of intelligent students still avoids college education; e-learning may involve these students in studies. E-learning provides the courses round the clock which further invite experts, students and even individuals learner. While the Virtual University is doing and would be able to provide large-scale educational facilities for the students nation-wide. Additional, by eradicating the need for qualified faculty at each VU campus will be able to provide better facilities nationwide.
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Private sector institutes like CASE, LUMS etc. are generally better equipped than their public-sector counterparts as far as equipment used for the teaching of Computer Science is concerned. Local Area Networks are slowly replacing stand-alone computer systems. A recent scheme that has allowed the collaboration of private parties with public-sector colleges has been especially beneficial in establishing modest computer laboratories in many colleges/institutes of the Punjab. Other provinces also should be following the same path and it is projected that accessibility of computing resources will become extensive for the majority of higher secondary school students in the very near future (Peter T, 2000). VU aims to provide quality education to a very large number of students. Considering only the Bachelor’s level, it is estimated approximately that annually over more than 30,000 students would want to chase a profession in Information Technology after qualifying their Intermediate examinations (12 years of study) in Pakistan. This is in addition to a substantial number of engineers who want to re-train and enter the IT job market in the pursuit of more lucrative careers (Toor 2005: 67-76). The existing colleges and universities can only cater for a small fraction of these.

CONCLUSION
The growth of the Internet is bringing numerous changes to distance learning education, and forcing providers and instructors to consider several difficult issues. The Internet may be on its way to replacing almost all other mediums of communication used by distance education programs worldwide. With the intention of endure, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and universities will gradually more rely on different forms of electronic delivery and communication inside a marketplace that requires learning to be supple. E-learning is now widely used in most of the developed countries to promote distance education and life-long learning in an effective way. In Pakistan, the recent developments and awareness of the Government on Information and Communication Technology have created an opportunity to implement the elearning for deliver distance learning education for educating collection of its instinctive or less learned peoples especially in urban areas. In view of the modern extension of ICTs in the Pakistan, Government and Virtual University could introduce some modern ICTs like e-mail, web-based learning, CD-ROM, secure Video Conferencing for delivering the course-materials through e-learning for its advanced students. Though, before going to initiate an advanced ICT in Virtual University and other public sector or private sector universities like LUMS, CASE etc, it is suggested to perform enough research on student access, cost, funding and other related parameters essential for it.

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REFERENCES
Toor S K, 2005 “Hybrid Model for e-Learning at Virtual University of Pakistan” The Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 3 Issue 1, pp 67-76. www.ejel.org/volume-3/v3-i1/v3-i1-art7-toor.pdf Peter T. Knight, Naveed A. Malik, and Asim Iftikhar, December 2000 “Pakistan VITUSIIT Feasibility Study Main Report”, www.knight-moore.com/projects/SIIT-VITUreport1.html Hedge, N. and Hayward, L. 2004 “Redefining roles: University e-learning contributing to life-long learning in a networked world.” E-Leaning, 1: 128-145. http://www.wwwords.co.uk/rss/abstract.asp?j=elea&aid=1775 www.aiou.edu.pk www.vu.edu.pk https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/print/pk.html Spodick, E. F. 1996, January “Problems and Challenges of Distance Education” http://sqzm14.ust.hk/distance/distance-6.html

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