At the end of the year 2019, a pandemic of COVID 19 unexpectedly emerged in the Wuhan city of China, rapidly spreading across the country and eventually the globe. To mitigate the effect of viral spread resulting in a high transmission rate and increase the load on the healthcare sector governments were forced to impose lockdowns to flatten the curve of COVID 19. In addition, SOPs including mandatory mask, social distancing, thermal check, and frequent sanitizer use was advocated. Similarly following WHO guidance Pakistan also imposed a lockdown resulting in the closure of educational institutes and offices etc. The conventional lecture-based educational system in crowded lecture halls might have facilitated viral transmission so initially the institutes followed the same trend of closure of institutes stopping all educational activities. This created a huge pause in the educational activities in all fields of health sciences including physical therapy education as well1. Due to the uncertain future direction of education activities, the continuous closure of educational institutes caused unrest not only among students but also in faculties of institutes in Pakistan2. To mitigate these educational crises resulting from pandemic and lockdowns, the institutes entailed a change in the educational system from traditional class lecture-based to an online virtual educational system. Considering the complex nature of Physical therapy education including all aspects of teaching such as theoretical, practical, and research work3; shifting to virtual learning and teaching was a big challenge for the students as well as teachers. A low-middle-income country like Pakistan significantly lacked infrastructure and technical support aspects in universities and households to facilitate a virtual education. Few of these included lack of internet access, inadequate bandwidth, limited IT support facilities in universities, the expertise of faculties related to online portals and lack of students’ responsiveness, etc.1. Furthermore, issues of electricity and power failures resulted in additional difficulties. Moreover, because majority of the population of Pakistan lives in peripheral areas of the country, these problems increased manyfold hindering physical therapy education. The missing component of the need for hands-on practice, one on one supervised interaction between student and patient for effective learning in physical therapy education was another missing factor in online education that required consideration.
All these factors highlight the point that while high-cost institutes have been somewhat successful in transiting to online physical therapy teaching and learning, a lot of institutes’ still lack digital infrastructure for distant education. It is safe to say that though digital physical therapy education has come a long way since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic there is still a long way ahead for progress. Stakeholders should look beyond the current scenario of pandemic and continue working on establishing a distant learning system for health sciences education. Future work can be done on faculty development, establishment of distant learning courses, integration of virtual reality technology for clinical teaching, practical work, dissection, anatomy model study, and modernization of IT infrastructure for the provision of better internet accessibility, systems, and platforms. This would not only fill the distant learning education gap in Pakistan but will also facilitate the evidence-based practice (EBP) among the physical therapy community as these are also a few similar prospects identified as a barrier to EBP. By this, the huge impact of COVID-19 on the physical therapy education of the students in Pakistan can be turned into some positive outcomes.
Prof Dr. Muhammad Naveed Babur
Dean, Faculty of Allied Health Sciences
Superior University Lahore
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-5437-2497
Dr. Muhammad Ehab Azim
Lecturer, Foundation University Institute of Rehabilitation Sciences,
Foundation University Islamabad Pakistan
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-6561-6496
[Babur MN, Azim ME. Covid-19 and Physical Therapy Education in Pakistan:
Transition from Traditional to Digital Education
Pak.j.rehabil. 2022; 11(1):01-04]
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