Tue. Jun 22nd, 2021

Dr. Aftab of KIU wins PKR21.5mn for project focused on strengthening quality education in Gilgit-Baltistan

GILGIT: Dr. Aftab Ahmed Khan, as a Principal Investigator has won a highly competitive Local Challenge Fund (LCF) award fund worth Rs. 21.5 million from HEC for project titled “Strengthening of Quality education at Gilgit Baltistan by using digital platforms”. LCF is a national fund from HEC supported by World Bank Group to address local challenges using modern research techniques in collaboration with national research center of excellences.

Education is a strong vehicle for socio-economic transformation of societies. According to Education Statistic-2016-17, about 35000 students were enrolled in secondary, higher secondary and degree levels education in public sector and private sector of GB. This enrolment is increasing at an average of 15% per year. A good number of these students (42%) are females and in some districts like Hunza, Ghizer and Astore, the female literacy is more than 70%. Affordability, access and quality are the three major challenges for the education in the in Gilgit Baltistan (GB). The absence of digital and online platforms for teaching, learning and assessment of secondary and higher secondary education sector in GB, further worsens the quality and accessibility challenges, particularly during natural disasters. The challenge became more severe during the recent pandemic, when none of the schools and colleges in GB could provide education to their students for more than eleven months. The digital divide thus deprived thousands of school children from access to education for many months [4]. Besides non availability of digital and online platforms, the poor capacity of the teachers in use of ICT for education is another major challenge.

Karakoram International University (KIU), in the meanwhile deployed State of the Art Learning Management System (LMS) and digital platforms at its main campus Gilgit and sub campuses at Hunza, Ghizer and Chilas. About 5100 students were registered and educated at the Online and digital portals and the spring and winter 2020 semesters are being completed with great success. They remained connected to education during the pandemic.

Based on the, successful experience of KIU and apparent challenge of accessibility and quality of teaching in the secondary and higher secondary education at GB, this project will attempt to provide customized Learning Management System (LMS) to the selected schools and Colleges of GB from public and private sectors, develop the capacity of teachers in these institutes for curriculum development, teaching, learning and assessment for digital and online systems. Hence the major objective of the project is to provide quality and accessible secondary and higher secondary education by providing online/digital platforms and develop the capacity of teacher and IT staff at these colleges and schools. Another major objective is to understand the challenges of digitalization in rural areas so recommendations could be made to other similar areas to address those challenges. In addition, lessons learnt during this project will assist in rapid digitalization of schools and colleges in Gilgit-Baltistan. At the research level, the research team will develop Artificial Intelligence based decision support systems to support learning, teaching, and administrative activities for teachers, students, and administrators in schools.

The consortium for the project is a diverse group comprising of 3 Universities and two stakeholders from end users, one each from public and private sectors. The lead role shall be assumed by KIU, where an energetic team of software scientist and educationists teach at the department of Computer Science and Education, respectively. National University of Science and Technology (NUST) has been opted as research partner, which is one of the leading research institutes. From private sectors Universities, City University of Science and IT Peshawar has been chosen for its obvious strength in the Computer Science and IT Education, besides having a schools and colleges chain of Peshawar Model Schools and Colleges as part of University, where more than 35000 students are acquiring quality education.  The end users include the Education department of GB and Aga Khan Education Services (AKES).  The consortium makes a good blend of technologists, educationists and policy makers. The project will involve, developing customized Learning Management System for the selected schools and colleges in public and private sectors of GB, deploying technology platform for operation of the LMS, including software and hardware, trainings of the teachers, administrators and IT staff for use of these platforms for curriculum development, delivery, and assessment and students feedback. On success of this pilot project, a way forward will be available for the entire secondary and higher secondary sector of GB for automation.

The team from KIU include Prof.Dr. Atta Ullah Shah, Prof.Dr. Asif Khan, Khalid Amin, and Imran Ali. It is pertinent to mention that PI of this project has also recently won a another highly competitive research project worth Euros 80,000- from DAAD- Germany in collaboration with FR University, Germany. Dr. Aftab Ahmed Khan, did his MS from TU Berlin and PhD from TU Munich, Germany. He is head of department of Computer Sciences. He also spearheaded a team of software developers who have developed KIU-Learning Management System in a very short duration and helped KIU to continue its teaching and learning activities online during Covid-19.

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