Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication has recommended reducing phone registration fees, import duty on laptops and Mobile Phones as many people can’t access online classes or afford to buy these facilities.
The committee directed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to inform the committee in this regard and reduce the import duty as well as the phone registration fee to make it cheaper and ensure access to online classes and examinations.
The committee also recommended that the government will have to provide subsidies for the provision of these facilities due to lack of purchasing power of the people. The committee observed that the towers of various network services are reportedly sold to foreigners and if this is true, it will be a security risk.
Citizen Digital Connectivity Hotspot
Leader of the House in Senate Dr. Shehzad Waseem proposed to create Citizen Digital Connectivity Hotspot for an immediate solution to the problems in online classes in remote areas during the epidemic to make it easier for people to access digital technology.
Federal Minister for Information Technology Syed Amin-ul-Haq told the committee that the country will soon start manufacturing smartphones, which will reduce their prices. He said a proposal has been tabled in the Cabinet and the government has directed the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information Technology to make the IT system cheaper. Further steps have been taken to promote the internet in the backward areas of the country which is being worked on to provide maximum 3G and 4G services.
The Standing Committee reviewed the issues faced by students across the country, especially in remote areas, regarding online classes, internet services, and online examinations.
Rubina Khalid said that the world’s conditions have changed due to the epidemic. Education is the guarantee of a bright future for any country. It is unfortunate that people have reservations about business but no voice is being raised for the education of children of the country, she added.
Problems in the System
Educational institutions have been shut down for the last several months, where children were trained other than teaching. A strategy should be adopted for teaching children effectively. There are a lot of problems with online classes and exams. When many people use the internet at the same time, there are problems in the system, just as there were problems in the election results, she added.
In this regard, the Ministry of Education, Higher Education, Ministry of Information Technology, and Telecommunication should formulate an effective mechanism so that children can have better educational opportunities. She said that many people do not have access to online classes and many people cannot afford to buy these facilities.
The committee observed that the biggest problem is at the level of government schools where the children of poor people are studying who cannot afford to buy phones and laptops and the teachers of these schools are not so efficient. In order to benefit effectively through online classes, the training of teachers for online classes is also essential.
Dr. Waseem said that the creation of Citizen Connectivity Hotspots would lead to better results in remote areas where internet facility and technology is not available. This will not only address these challenges but also improve the quality of education and make it easier for children to access school classes. He also said that the steps taken by the government for Digital Pakistan would be further expanded to make it easier for the common man to access Smartphones and digital devices. In this regard, the Smartphone manufacturing project launched by the government will have far-reaching results, he added.
The government’s focus on digital technology has also led to better results during COVID-19 – he said, adding that work on expanding Digital Pakistan needs to be stepped up as it is now clear that one of the biggest benefits to National Command and Operations Center during the COVID- 19 challenge has been the availability of digital technology. It has not only enabled digital tracking but has also made it possible to identify areas most affected by the virus and improve connectivity between relevant agencies and hospitals.
Dr. Waseem said that remote areas are facing problems of internet access and service which can be solved through Citizen Connectivity Hotspot at the community level where the service is available. The people of the surrounding areas can benefit from it.
He further said the supply of digital technology, smartphones, and other digital devices can be ensured in a phased manner. In this regard, the government will have to provide a subsidy for the provision of these facilities due to the lack of purchasing power of the people.
The committee fully endorsed the recommendation of Dr. Waseem and demanded early implementation.
Internet Access & Speed Issues
Rehman Malik said that first it should be ascertained which areas don’t have internet service. He said that Gilgit-Baltistan should also be provided an internet facility as there is no network in many areas. “As far as I know, the towers of various network services are being sold to foreigners. If this is true, it will be a security risk,” he said.
“We must not neglect our responsibilities so that no enemy country can use our towers”, he added. On which Dr. Waseem said that a new concept of tower sharing has become popular in the world which reduces the capital cost and does not require every company to install a tower.
However, security must also be taken into account in these matters. Senator Kulsoom Parveen said that there are compromises in the field of education and health. Online classes can be effective as far as the federal capital Islamabad is concerned. But Balochistan, the most backward province, is not conducive to students.
Electricity is not available and the poor cannot provide these facilities to their children. She said that the Prime Minister of Pakistan had given a clear order not to charge private school fees but they have been collected by force.
Low Internet Speed in Balochistan
Senator Sana Jamali said that internet speed is very low in Balochistan and children are facing many problems in online classes.
Senator Taj Muhammad Afridi said that the people of FATA have made many sacrifices in the war against terrorism. Now those districts are very peaceful but unfortunately, the people of FATA are not being provided internet even though all the systems are in place. Given that people are facing numerous problems.
The committee should recommend that internet services be provided in the former FATA areas. On which the Chairman PTA said that the matter would be taken up with the Ministry of Home Affairs and facilities would be provided in peaceful areas. He said that 80% of the population of Pakistan has access to the internet and only 40-45% of the people are using the internet.
In FATA, the USF has done a great job and due to security data services have been shut down in some areas. Fixed internet was running to provide relief to the people who had 9000 connections and added 4900 more. Situations are reviewed with security agencies and where there are no security issues, the facility will be provided.
500,000 University Students Can’t Access Internet
MD HEC Dr. Nadia Tahir told the committee that educational institutions had to be closed due to the pandemic. Around 2 million children are studying in universities in the country. HEC has surveyed all the private universities that they can give online education. She said that out of 2 million students, 500,000 do not have internet facilities.
A plan has been put before the government for them and permission has been sought from the government for institutions that need labs. Only 4% of children in the country get higher education which should have been 10-15 percent.
The committee was told that HEC has trained 53,000 teachers for online education. Earlier, 35 out of 209 universities could provide online facilities, now 135 can provide online education and examinations for each student. Problems are also being heard and universities are bound to re-take the exam if any child could not give the exam due to electricity or the internet. Ministry of Education officials told the committee that a team of expert teachers has been formed through a TV channel that provides online education to children of all classes. 5% of such schools are private.
The committee decided that the next meeting of the committee should be held at the HEC with the approval of the Chairman Senate in which the Vice-Chancellors and students of various universities including the concerned institutions could be apprised of the problems faced.