While online education has established roots in the advanced countries, it is yet to take off on a steady course in Pakistan. It gained new currency in the wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19), a deadly contagious disease with a steep transmission rate that called for minimizing interactions and encouraging social distancing. Public and private schools and colleges along with institutions of higher learning have been forced to resort to alternative means to salvage ongoing academic sessions and current terms in progress. Albeit unintended, this has brought online education into focus. Online teaching programs in Pakistan are yet to compete with the rest of the world. Balochistan province, similarly, does not have much in terms of online education. Although more and universities are formulating programs for online/ distant learners. 

Online education has been a relatively new phenomenon. The general perception towards it has undergone a gradual change from wide scepticism in the 1980s and 90s to cautious acceptance in the 21st century. It is becoming the norm now for students to get enrolled in online courses. The pace of technological advancement is a harbinger of mass adoption of nonphysical and nontraditional means to get an education in the near future. The dynamics of global progress have necessitated innovative modes of acquiring knowledge and its transmission. In an age where cutthroat competition rules the roost, employees are opting for nontraditional means of acquiring education while contributing to their individual professions. If we go by global trends, it must be the top priority of Balochistan government to work in close liaison with institutions of higher learning for developing a comprehensive mechanism that caters to the evolving needs of distant learners. 

Online education, however, has its pros and cons as compared to the traditional in-class education system. By its very nature, it is flexible, and students can choose academic modules tailored for specific requirements considering course timelines, choice of instructors etc. This also seeks the active participation of enrolled students and their commitment determines their eventual success and failure. There exists, as in the rest of the country, negative perception towards online education in Balochistan as well. Most aspiring students generally opt-out of such programs considering them inferior to traditional physical education. However, this perception is flawed and does not consider the latest advancements and international acceptance of online education. According to a consultation firm Eduventures, Inc, based in the USA, the vast majority of education institutions incorporate online versions of courses. About 60 per cent of businesses accept graduates from online programs of study. Furthermore, the study concluded that 33 per cent of students accorded the same weightage on online education as face to face education of traditional academic institutions. 

Understandably, it will nonetheless take some time before graduates of online programs get general recognition. Meanwhile, the public and private sector institutions of the province must be in the vanguard for the cause of online education and need to work in close coordination to accord respectability to online education that is at par with the rest of world. There are a variety of courses designed for diverse types of professional needs. If the public gets to know the advantages of online education ranging from obviating concerns about logistics, flexibilities of schedule, availability of academic program sectors, it will be popular in no time. The future promises wonderful opportunities for personal development owning to the ever-growing sources of acquiring information. Information technology will keep growing and we will have to adapt to stay relevant and connected. 

This, indubitably, goes without saying that online education depends wholly on the availability of a fast, dependable, and steady internet connection. It is a given in western countries but, unfortunately,  large chunks of our country and most districts of Balochistan lack this basic facility. Given this scenario, online education becomes the least of their concerns. If the public gets stuck in a vicious cycle where extreme poverty denies them basic education leading to widespread unemployment, catching pace with the rest of the world will be just a pipe dream and nothing more. Therefore, our public office holders and elected representatives need to work their fingers to the bone so as to extricate our resource-rich province from socio-economic deprivation to a place where it can use the full extent of its natural potential. In a province where ghost schools and ghost teacher significantly outnumber real ones, the government and educational institutions need to devise long term and practical strategies so that a gradual change in all indicators of social development can be realized. 


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Leena Shah Mir is a freelance analyst from Gwadar, Balochistan.

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