The world has changed; so has the definition of success for students in this post-crisis world. Institutions need to create spaces for students to achieve their meaning of achievements. While an institution’s success is gauged by the number of graduates it produces every year; students’ success depends if they have the right training to perform in the professional world. For a long time now in Pakistan, institutes have been blamed for only serving their interests without equipping their students with the right skill set, giving them financial independence, etiquette and learning behaviour.
This generated a vacuum; filled by motivational speakers, influencers, TikTokers and e-commerce gurus who are seen relegating the importance of degree programmes in universities on social media; calling formal education a farce, advising students to spend time and money instead in learning skills for swift financial gains. Jobless degree holders work as a catalyst to support this stance. Instant gratification, glamour and returns are what enable the message of these content creators seeps seamlessly into the impressionable minds of the youth who are promised endless opportunities without even being given a hint of what they are missing—precious time of their youth to develop their personalities, vision, social intelligence and analytical abilities inside the classrooms.
In the post-pandemic world, change is silently sweeping the education sector of Pakistan where students in developed countries will be responsible to pay for their university education instead of their parents like in the past. Varsities must realise that in the changing socio-economic scenarios, success for students—now maybe more than ever—entails knowledge and degrees. They want to be socially responsible, financially independent and be able to contribute to solving complex problems in society—all that is claimed to be achieved once they become a Ticktock star.
Think of a student in the US who works as a carpenter during the day to support his degree and is only able to take time out during the weekends and evenings with his staggering schedule for work. He manages to continue his education only because the institutes offer him face to face, distant, remote, online and offline learning facilities. He can pick the time, space, even mode of examination as per his convenience. What will a similar person do in Pakistan? Start a YouTube channel at best? Or become a TickToker? All without any training? In Pakistan, unfortunately, educational institutions are only as flexible as a fat man in a yoga class. Courses offered by these institutes have outdated curriculums, lack hands-on training, and are rigid in terms of time and space. They adapt to new trends at a snail’s speed. E-commerce, online content creation, crypto-currency, blockchain and cybersecurity are emerging fields but education in these is hardly offered by leading universities in the country.
With no formal training, skills and educational background, the youth in Pakistan can hardly meet the international standards of these latest skills needed in the world. Also, on a platform like Upwork, Fiver and Amazon, most of us do not perform well because of superficial knowledge and the aversion to research and development. The youth needs grooming, period. Varsities must provide it for all. It is high time that institutes in Pakistan shun a ‘one-size-for-all’ practice and emphasise acknowledging the individuality of students. Focusing on the academic involvement of the students includes where the students are coming from and the career path they choose for themselves. Flexibility is important.
There must be more alternative pathways and credit to job and degree for students for their future, including prior learning assessments, micro-credentialing, competency-based education and badging. With a changing labour market, students must experience a relevant and inclusive curriculum, gain skills of the future and the present, and be provided experiential learning opportunities. The equity-minded-lens approach is essential. Students should be participating in learning activities from various locations: libraries, classrooms, dorm rooms, parent’s houses, crowded apartments, cafes, or workplaces.
The pandemic highlighted the basic needs gaps for students and the importance of social connection. Institutions need to ensure security including housing, food, jobs, transportation, and technology through appropriate funding and support, including emergency loans, affordable tuition, free texts and course materials. There is a dire need to move forward towards sustainable educational institutions and a robust learning system that focuses on skill-based learning enabling students to be financially independent, socially responsible to be able to contribute to their families, society, country and the world.