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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Teaching goes virtual in Pakistan
User on a computer, BBC
Pakistan is investing in expanding net access
test hello test
BBC News Online Alfred Hermida, BBC
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff
Thousands of Pakistanis are being offered the chance to learn the skills they need to thrive in the computer age thanks to a new virtual university.

The US$40m project is providing distance learning over the television and internet so that anyone can take part in the classes, regardless of where they live in Pakistan.

The aim is to create a generation of software programmers and computer engineers who can rival the best in countries like the US.

Pakistan is eager to develop an information technology industry, much like India has done. Experts estimate the country needs at least 60,000 computer science graduates to achieve this aim.

"India is a very inspiring case. They got their act together very early," said Salman Ansari, adviser to Pakistan's Ministry of Science and Technology.

"We are leveraging technology to get to the level that we need to get to," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Exciting education

The Virtual University combines television, video-conferencing and the internet to provide lessons, tutorials and guidance to students all over Pakistan.

Students are realising that they are having a better educational experience than most of our conventional institutions

Naveed Malik, Virtual University rector
The lectures are produced in a professional studio, carefully put together to ensure they are clear and accessible.

Students can log on to the university over the internet and discuss the subject with a lecturer.

"The students feel empowered by sitting in front of a PC and being able to shoot off questions or put their comments on a discussion board," said Naveed Malik, the rector of the Virtual University.

"It's a very exciting experience. Students are realising that they are having a better educational experience than most of our conventional institutions."

Cheap and friendly

Currently around 500 people are taking part in a pilot project. The organisers hope to have 5,000 students by September, rising to 25,000 by the end of 2003.

Adviser Salman Ansari, BBC
Ansari: Provide low cost net access
One of the key aspects of the project is to ensure that anyone, regardless of their income and where they live, can take part in the lessons.

"We have opened up access to the Virtual University to all segments of the population by keeping the prices extremely low," said Mr Malik.

To this end, educational centres are being set up where students can view the courses and access the internet.

The plan is to set up a high-speed computer network linking 60 universities and 2,500 schools and colleges. A further 10,000 schools will be able to access the lessons through the internet.

"We realised that we had to build up the internet in Pakistan very rapidly," said Mr Ansari.

"So two years ago we had about 29 cities on the internet; today we have 580 online and it will be 1,000 by the end of the year."

The government has also worked to ensure that the cost of going online is within reach of most.

"I could be sitting in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anywhere, but when I log in, the cost would be six rupees (10 cents) an hour," he said.

See also:

28 Mar 00 | Education
'Borderless' future for universities
27 Jul 00 | Africa
Feeding hungry minds in Africa
15 Feb 00 | Education
Universities told to catch the e-wave
02 May 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
01 Sep 00 | South Asia
Pakistan boosts internet access
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