Higher Education Commission (HEC), on Monday directed all universities and accredited institutions in the country to start online classes to avoid education loss to the students staying at home due to the COVID-19 spread, said a notification. According to the notification issued to all registered institutions of higher education in Pakistan, the HEC asked to utilize the learning management systems to initiate online classes.Closing universities and transitioning to online learning is critical to stymying the spread of the virus, but experts agree that the transition won’t be easy. The transition to digital learning will be especially challenging within lower-income or remote areas. The efforts of the HEC and cellular companies during this crisis ought to be commended, but their quick response also begs the question: Was broadband access not essential before COVID-19? Long before the coronavirus drew national attention to the issue, digital inclusion advocates were stressing the disparate outcomes for students without internet.People in the educational technology industry, which produces everything from online learning software to tools that track the productivity of students, believe they’re poised to help tackle challenges. But many educators have doubts given what some see as problems evolving from the use of technology in teaching and learning — everything from using technology for student surveillance to the impact of using it to bundle pricey textbooks with software. Ethical concerns are especially troublesome.In this back and forth between proponents and skeptics, the impacts of COVID-19 on educational institutions and students offers a chance to carefully examine educational technology in acute, crisis-driven contexts.Positive experiencesWhile the work to transition face-to-face instruction to online environments would mean an initial massive increase in working hours, the results for some educators and some students so far are promising.Usama, a student pursuing undergraduate degree in a private university says,“In my view online classes are the best and easiest mode of learning. But just some students are exploiting the minds of other students just for their own interests. Internet problems are faced by every individual in Pakistan which are caused by the telecommunication mafia. Also why we are not starting a trend for the fee that universities have already collected as of now we are using our own resources. I urge my fellow students to let’s gather and start a trend and fight against the telecom mafia and for the fee that we already have paid. This will not only help few but everyone who is studying and using internet. I hope we can use student power in positive things and not get used by some people for their own personal interest.”In the emerging and ever-changing COVID-19 context, PUCIT offers example of successful adaptation and rapid deployment of educational technology products, like the video-conferencing platform Zoom and online course provider.Digital expert Muhammad Asim Siddique who is administrator for the Campus Management System (CMS) at the Punjab University in Lahore, also suggested the authorities concerned to introduce special discount packages of 4G/3G broadband internet for educationists and students to make easy and cheap access to online classes.Negative experiencesOn the other hand, some instructors and school leaders are facing pains in transitioning to online learning. Many more share concerns for students who don’t have easy access to wifi or computers.Moreover, the teachers are pretending to imitate classroom experience in 40 minutes’ time slots on zoom. That is not possible because most times the bandwidth is so poor students cannot even see them.The students are not stimulated to learn. Technical subjects and lab time cannot be taught on zoom or other video streaming softwares.There is a difference between online learning via streaming and actual self-paced online learning. Platforms like Coursera are an example of self-paced learning. World’s top universities are trying the latter and Pakistani universities are enforcing the former since teachers were not given any time to prepare for either.Beberg Baloch, a student of private university expressed his concerns saying,“We few friends from Balochistan were really concerned and depressed when they announced for online classes because it was representing a digital divide in Pakistan. We thought of taking an initiative of Twitter campaign and protest on social media platforms because the war-torn areas have no facilities at all. Our trend #We_Want_Semester_break gained momentum and the students from all over Pakistan joined the protest. It has created a hope for the students of all public and private universities, as students are boycotting the online classes and many universities suspended them. Now from Chitral to Gwadar, students are speaking against the digital divide but corporate sector is still there to maintain the fear and threaten the students. We are no one yet we are everywhere on social media, which justifies our stance for student unity in Pakistan. We are are hopeful for a positive outcome and are not afraid of online threats.”Notably, many students are stranded due to the lockdown. They are unable to go home and unable to stay in another city or university hostels after lockdown. They cannot be expected to attend mandatory online classes in these circumstances.All students should have equal opportunities to get their money’s worth of education. Online classes cannot deliver that in the context of Pakistan.Students demand HEC to consider stopping these virtual classes, reopen discussions on how best to approach education in these unprecedented circumstances and include student’s voices in that conversation. Their recommendation is a semester break and continuation of classes after this pandemic is under control.