by Zoha Fareed Chishti
The environment at home [during the semester] was difficult to say the least. There were constant disturbances–there was no proper learning space. The internet and electricity continued to be top issues. [There have been] multiple ramifications to an online semester,” Mumtaz Khan ’22 said.
As the university admin geared up to take the classes online during the spring of 2020, it soon became clear that not every student was equipped with the necessary resources required to adapt to this change. The student body found themselves in an unprecedented position. While some students managed to cope with the transition, others found the online semester to be insurmountable.
“I was juggling between my responsibilities at home and the workload of my four courses.” Khan, from Quetta, Balochistan told The Post, “The internet and electricity were another issue altogether. We were facing load-shedding and wifi fluctuations every day.” Khan also struggled with creating an isolated working space for himself. He explained, “For the past 2 years, options like the library, IST, dorm room, and DRs were available at our discretion. The drastic and sudden difference was difficult to adjust to (and still continues to be).” It was challenging for him to separate his working hours and leisure hours. The lines between the two blurred.
Wardah Noor ’23 from Layyah, Punjab, found herself facing a mountain of problems, too. “I was home in the middle of the semester. I was quick to realize this was not a comfortable set-up for classes.” Her workspace had to be crafted out of the family living room.
“When you are at home, there is no concept of privacy–your classes mix with all that is happening at home,” she told The Post. Living in a joint-family system, Noor would rarely find the peace and quiet required to attend classes. She had to deal with the incessant power cuts and poor internet connection persistent in her hometown, only adding to the hurdles.
In Rawalakot, Azaad Jammu-Kashmir, Nimra Tariq ’22 struggled to keep up with her classes, with limited access to the internet. She told The Post, ”I did not even create a proper study space for myself, I just shifted between the places where the internet worked better.” Being unable to attend the Zoom sessions with the rest of her peers, she felt she was constantly at a disadvantage. With the lack of real-time engagement with her instructors and denied opportunities for class participation, Tariq felt a void forming in her learning process.
Karim Ahmad ’22 went from living with full access to the internet on campus to a valley (Gilgit City, Gilgit-Baltistan) with a significantly low bandwidth. Ahmad said, “As most of the components were writing and research based, it normally took minutes or, in some situations, hours to load a single Google site.”
Ahmad explained that for most students living in Gilgit–and surrounding areas in the north–keeping up with online classes was a task. Load-shedding and connectivity issues were a huge obstacle. Some of his friends had to move to other cities (with better bandwidth connection) to access online learning. He said, “I used to wait for hours to get my electronic devices recharged. I had to wait for a stable connection (which sometimes only became available after midnight) and missed some of the deadlines.”
In Lahore, Punjab, Manaal Mohsin’23 had set up her study space in her dining room. “I wouldn’t say the space was conducive to learning,” Mohsin told The Post. “There were a lot of distractions, a lot of noise. My brother had his classes and my mother would also be working from home so this caused a lot of disruption in the WiFi.” Distractions and connectivity issues made the semester challenging for Mohsin.
On the other end of the spectrum, for Muhammad Bilal Shahid ’23 from Lahore, Punjab, the shift to online classes was not particularly troubling. Shahid dealt with the occasional anxiety of his connection becoming unresponsive during quizzes or exams. Stability of the internet was not a significant source of anxiety for Shahid during the semester. For him, problem(s) arose in another way. Shahid said, “I believe your peers teach you more than your instructors. Having that resource limited was a big challenge.”
With much of its student body directly affected, the LUMS administration has been arguably mindful of the challenges attached with online learning. During the initial transition phases, several surveys were carried out by the instructors and the administration alike to ensure that course material reached most students.
The administration distributed internet devices with free data (75gb/month) to the students on full financial aid, but the extent to which these helped their circumstances is debatable. For Tariq ‘22, the free internet device did little to help her case considering there is no bandwidth internet connection in Rawalakot.
Similarly, Noor ’22 has concerns about the upcoming fall semester. She said, “For the 2020 fall semester, LUMS must draw policies for areas with limited access to electricity and internet in order to ensure that all students can participate in remote-learning equally.”
Looking ahead, for students living in environments that are not conducive to learning, a particularly challenging semester awaits.