Earlier, the students filed a petition in Islamabad High Court (IHC) for inadequate online classes mechanism which is inaccessible by the majority of students according to students. HEC had to submit a response in defense of this petition however, the HEC sought more time from IHC in order to submit a reply on the petition.
According to the details provided by Dawn, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah was hearing the petition filed by students at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Islamic International University Islamabad (IIU), Iqra University (IQ) Islamabad, National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Islamabad, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Taxila and The University of Peshawar.
Sikander Naeem Qazi leading the case for petitioners argues that many students belong to suburban or rural areas and they do not have access to the amenities available in the urban areas, “They were constrained to approach the court seeking protection of their fundamental right to education guaranteed by the Constitution.”, the students were unable to access online teaching material during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Guidelines for online classes have created a non-level playing field for students which is tantamount to a denial of access to education, says the petition
The limited or no access to educational materials, assessment, and examination material has been affecting the students adversely. According to the counsel Mr. Qazi, the petitioners come from remote areas felt discriminated, as their rights to life and education in current pandemic circumstances had not been undertaken seriously by higher educational institutions.
The guidelines for the online classes have created a non-level playing field which is tantamount to a denial of access to education, he added. COVID 19 guidance notes were issued by the HEC under Section 10 of the Higher Education Commission Ordinance 2002 to the private and public universities in order to ensure a standardized model of online education. Some universities in turn disseminated their own guidelines for online teaching, assessment, and examination system for students.
On March 26, HEC issued a white paper on how universities should prepare for a transition to the online environment and formed a technical support committee that could help universities to implement the agenda. According to the petition, the universities were required to structure their online readiness measures in accordance with the HEC Covid-19 guidance notes but none of the educational institutions followed these guidelines.
It said during the period universities failed to appropriately adapt the HEC Covid-19 guidelines and the HEC, being responsible for students’ welfare, failed to monitor and evaluate the guidelines issued by the universities. The petition also said the students had raised a number of issues with the HEC, including charging hostel, library, lab and transportation fees, and lack of access to educational resource materials due to connectivity issued.
The students were assured by the HEC, in a press release on June 3, that a mechanism to address the grievances of the students would be formulated and appropriate guidelines would be issued. However, many issues remained such as the absence of dedicated offices in universities to deal with the students facing connectivity issues.
The petition requested the court to direct the authorities to implement HEC’s guidelines related to COVID-19. It also said educational institutions may also be asked to charge the fee proportionate to the service provided to the students during the COVID pandemic. Justice Minallah directed the HEC to nominate an authorized officer to hear the petitioners and pass an order on their applications. The court also sought a report from the HEC on the issue.