Students stage protest against unavailability of internet in Yasin
By Gul Nayab Kaiser
Yasin/Gilgit (TP) June 17: A large number of college and university students staged a protest demonstration in Taus in Yasin in Ghizer district against the non-availability of internet service as the military-run SCO has failed to provide uninterrupted service in the far-flung villages of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The students of different colleges and universities and civil society members staged the protest in front of SCO office in Taus in Yasin. The demonstrators, who were holding placards and banners, demanded the uninterrupted internet service without any delay as they could not take online classes of their respective institutions.
After the long closure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the refusal by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to promote students without evaluation and examination, universities formally started online classes from June 1.
With the resumption of the online classes, a large number of university students, especially those living in far-flung areas, have complained about the difficulty in taking classes owing to slow and poor internet service as the HEC, being the regulatory body, seems to have failed to push the universities to comply with the SOPs and guidelines issued for the online classes.
The students demanded of the SCO authorities to provide fast internet so that they could continue their online classes. The poor internet service has taken a heavy toll on the students of Yasin and the whole Gilgit-Baltistan and are unable to attend the online classes which are mandatory for them to be promoted to the next semester.
Addressing demonstrators, young youth leader Iqbal Nasir expressed the frustration and said that the people of Sandi, Gojalti, Qurqalti, Thoi and other villages were deprived of the internet service. Nasir urged the SCO authorities to mobilize their resources to ensure the provision of the internet service in the whole tehsil.
A candidate for Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly from Yasin, Rehmat Rahim, slammed the HEC for devising the online education policy without considering the issues of students from far-flung areas. ‘The people sitting in Islamabad are unaware of issues of the students of the backward areas, why they did not take the GB government and other stakeholders on board before they thrashed out the online classes policy,” Rahim said questioning the decision-making criteria of the HEC. The candidate also criticised those who did not participate in the protest despite knowing about the internet issue in Yasin.
Advocate Latif said that only the students have the power to bring a change in a society, so it is important they continue their struggle unless their demand is met by the authorities concerned. He said that the world is opting for 7G and we are still hooked to the primitive internet service.
Youth leader Shah Rahim demanded that the DG SCO come up with immediate measures to resolve the issue of the students. He expressed solidarity with the students facing the internet issue and raised the problems being faced by the female students in their homes. He slammed all three ex-MLAs, Ghulam Muhammad, Raja Jahanzaib and Mohd Ayoub for failing to address the issues of the people of Yasin. He said the leadership in Yasin was incompetent and lived a luxuries life in total disregard for the problems of their voters. He questioned the performance of the local political leadership in constructing roads, health and education facilities.
During the protest, the students took care of the corona SOPs by wearing face masks and keeping a physical distance until they called off their protest.
It is pertinent to mention here that against the online teaching policy of HEC students from Fata and other backward areas of KPK had protested earlier, while students of QSF and others are also protesting outside HEC.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has allowed universities and degree-awarding institutions to continue teaching for the Spring Semester 2020 by using a variety of distance learning approaches including the internet, one-way or two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, broadband lines, fibre optics, satellite, or wireless communication devices, audio-conferencing, or sharing of CDs for students having no direct internet facility.
The students of tribal areas, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan have lodged their complained through the social media that they are facing problems in taking online classes due to the poor internet service being provided by different telecom companies and the army-led SCO.
Interestingly, almost without evaluating the preparedness of universities in offering online classes after the training of the faculty staff, the HEC has left the students at the mercy of their respective institutions as several universities have failed to put in place a robust and functional Learning Management System (LMS) for the online classes.
Earlier, HEC Director Media Aayesha Ikram while talking to The Punch had said that the regulatory body was aware of the issues being faced by the students in the remote areas and they were in touch with the universities and the telecom companies and the Pakistan army to ensure the internet accessibility to the students.
Answering a question, she said that the universities have been clearly instructed to facilitate the students through online lectures or recorded ones.
When asked since universities have started online classes, if all of them have complied with the HEC directive, and if not, mention the name of the universities which are still working on the directives, Aayesha Ikram said: “There are varying levels of compliance. Every university has made some effort, with response rates ranging from 40 to 90 per cent. We don’t want to single out lagging universities at this stage. Our goal is to try to get every university to keep on improving their performance.”