Every nation, community, organisation, and educational institution has its own culture. Norms and ways of doing things are the building blocks of that culture.
However, since 2020 we have had to go through a series of adaptations in the way we do things, due to the changes brought about in every aspect of our lives by the global pandemic. It has upended life as we know it, thrusting us into a 'new normal'.
But after more than two years of the pandemic, it has been equally challenging to go back to the old way of life, requiring us to redefine our norms and culture.
Anyone who has ever studied business or strategy must have studied a prominent change management theory by Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist from the 19th century. He proposed that any change goes through three phases: unfreezing, change, and refreezing. The same is happening in our educational institutes, especially universities.
While students are flocking back to schools and universities, it has been a struggle to recreate the 'culture' that existed in 2019. The struggle is visible on both sides of the table, for students and teachers alike.
For as long as we can look back, education has always been about filling your bags with books, learning class lessons, strolling around the campus, honing one's skills, cramming before the tests etc. However, when Covid-19 hit, along with wiping away socialising, it also rendered the idea of traditional education as "prehistoric".
Piece of papers turned into digitised documents, in-person lectures turned into podcasts, and students had more time to sleep. The world swiftly adapted as schools restructured their way of providing education.
Nevertheless, the traditional education system received a big blow as students lost the essence of personal touch during the lockdown. And now that they are coming back to school, a big part of the pre-existing "culture" has been restructured into a new one.
It is undeniable that scores of students found the entire online education era perplexing. It was an uphill battle for students accustomed to sitting in the class, drinking in the wisdom of their professors, and taking notes. Moreover, not many are comfortable navigating their way around a computer, but this change was inevitable.
With the world revolutionising and stepping into digital industrialisation, the shift from a traditional education system to a digitalised one was indeed a necessity. And now that students have come back to school, the condition of some of these digitaliised services remain unparalleled.
However, in developing countries like Bangladesh, it is not that easy. People across the country do not share the same internet bandwidth. The pandemic exposed the lack of accessibility to digital gadgets for the vast majority, resulting in a sharp drop in the number of students able to participate in online activities
Challenges like this have been quite evident in the past two years. Schools are trying their best to provide the best possible education amidst the pandemic. However, they are falling short in logistics and other parts of the supply chain.
The damages caused by Covid-19 have been physical, but the impact on fundamentals is more detrimental. Many university students have dropped out due to financial constraints, only to land in the unemployment abyss which is 6%.
Unicef's estimates from 2021 show that 37 million students in Bangladesh are at the risk of being deprived of an education due to the pandemic. This new human capital, in turn, is highly detrimental to our economy and future as a nation.
Moreover, students who attended online classes for the past two years have lost their motivation and determination to attend classes physically. Students and faculty members alike are struggling to revive the learning/teaching environment of a pre-Covid world. Also, being confined inside the four walls of their homes has inadvertently taken a toll on people's mental health.
To address this issue and find a solution to the conundrum, educational institutions, students and teachers need to play their roles. Universities need to be vigilant and listen to the problems students are facing and address them in a compassionate manner.
Institutions can do this by making assessments more relaxed while not compromising quality. Focus needs to be placed on encouraging students to participate in recreational activities alongside studying. There needs to be a focus on developing skills that are sustainable and helpful during a pandemic.
Arranging seminars periodically to reassure the students, and simple counselling sessions where students can express their struggles in academic and personal life can be game-changers.
Students need to be encouraged to put in genuine effort, and attend classes. This is a prerequisite to doing well. Upholding ethical values and integrity can never be compromised. Open-mindedness and willingness to learn are perhaps the most vital factors in adapting to a new culture.
It has undoubtedly been a challenge for students to adjust to the new learning culture and move forward. But with constant practice and by sticking to the routine of attending physical classes, students will learn and eventually adapt.
Due to the pandemic, universities have restructured their way of providing services even without knowing it. Similarly, both students and teachers have relearned the new culture, which is evolving to be the new normal. The pandemic has opened our eyes to numerous exciting opportunities, and it is time to jump on the bandwagon and seize the day.
Quazi Tafsirul Islam is a Lecturer of Strategy and Human Resources at North South University and Khawaja Sazzad Ali is a Research Assistant (RA) at the School of Business and Economics at North South University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.