Emergence of COVID19 and Prompt Response of University of Baltistan (UoBs)-I

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Huda Shah
The Corona virus has turned the world upside down. Along with other calamities this deadly virus has
left the education in Limbo. In Pakistan all schools, colleges, Universities and madrassas are closed since
13 March 2020. Amidst this crucial time, many universities took subsequent alternatives and initiated
online classes but the prompt response given by University of Baltistan (UoBs) is indeed a milestone.
UoBs has taken this disaster as an opportunity rather than a crippling challenge. University of Baltistan,
Skardu (UoBS) is a newly established Federally Chartered public sector University, located in Skardu
district of Gilgit Baltistan. The former Skardu campus of Karakoram International University (KIU) Gilgit-
Baltistan was constituted as “University of Baltistan, Skardu (UoBS)”, under the University of Baltistan
Order 2016 notified on August 25 2017. The campus administrator and Head of Computer Sciences
department, Dr Irshad Ali (Late) who was a software scientist, had already established Campus
Management System (CMS), Learning Management system (LMS) and the Student Information System
(SIS) much before the emergence of COVID-19. Immediately, after the approval of charter and joining of
the first Vice Chancellor in June 2018, Dr Irshad Ali became the founding Registrar of the newly
established University which further accelerated the University's pace in E learning. The
updated/enhanced modules of LMS became the regular features of learning at the newly established
University, however; it was very unfortunate that Dr Irshad passed away on March 25 2019. After his
demise, his trained IT team continued working on the already established systems. The effective and
efficient use of LMS have been approved, appreciated and encouraged by the statutory bodies of the
Faculty Council, Academic Council and the Syndicate of the University. Hence, University of Baltistan has
the honour to be a digital native with its locally developed Learning Management System (LMS).
However, the vigilant response of UOBs to COVID19 pandemic is undoubtedly appreciable. Before the
start of academic session (Semester Spring 2020) universities were closed on the account of covid-19

pandemic .Assessing and foreseeing the emergency, the University management quickly decided to
switch its academic activities on E-Learning mode through LMS. Necessary updates were made in LMS
and SIS and it was launched for students. Fortunately, faculty and senior students were familiar with the
system, so they were informed and instructed to switch over to E-Learning. In April, the Vice Chancellor
shared the development with the community of VC’s during their meeting with the Chairman HEC,
where quality parameters were considered with technology aspects for E-learning. To endorse the
recommendations of the meetings of academic HoDs and the discussed strategies of assessment, an
emergent meeting of Academic Council (with online participation of few members) was called on April
22, 2020. The meeting chaired by the worthy Vice Chancellor approved decisions of the previous
meetings and proposed few policy guidelines. The LMS has been made fully functional and IT team is
available to address queries or issues raised by the students or faculty. Every student has been given
access to all the subjects he/she is registered for, and the students will be able to download all lectures
uploaded on the system, so that they can learn them offline, repeat as many times as they want and
prepare questions for further clarification. Students having access to internet, more frequently, are
advised and encouraged to share the updates with their class fellows via telephone or social media (Face
book and WhatsApp) or share downloaded soft materials in USB. Furthermore, faculty members have
been given access to LMS to upload lecturers and learning materials including self-propelled audio video
lectures. For the convenience of students, teachers are informed that, at least one third (1/3) of their
lectures should be audio/video having shorter duration (it will get easier for students to download a
shorter file). Also, faculty members are supervised by related HoDs and if a faculty is unable to upload
required number of lectures within a month, then the HoD can drop that subject and offer it in later
semesters. IT Department is working days and nights to provide students every possible facility, but
despite of all efforts, a student is unable to login or access the classes (lectures/materials) online or
downloaded for offline learning, her/his case could/ would be considered for semester freeze without
any fee. The fee deposited for spring 2020, will be adjusted against fee of next semester as the fee for
spring 2020 has been waived off by the university. Freeze of first semester (Spring 2020) will also be
permissible as special case for new students.Moreover, for the sustainability of quality, the office of
Quality Enhancement Cell (QEC) will check the quality of lectures in terms of relevance, level, content,
resources, user friendliness of materials and assignments.