The unprecedented pandemic has drastically changed the way we function as a society. Businessmen across the world are on the verge of despair and joining their ranks are the students. While people are struggling for survival, the University Grants Commission's (UGC) decision of continuing online classes and exams, fuels the agony and anxiety of the university students.
After an online meeting on 30 April with Education Minister Dr. Dipu Moni, Deputy Education Minister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhuri, UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah and Vice-chancellors of several private and public universities, UGC Acting Secretary Ferdous Zaman declared, "We have decided that all public and private universities must ensure online classes."
However, without considering the inadequate technological condition of Bangladesh, such decision by UGC was not well-received by the students. The social, financial and psychological circumstances are not in favour of the learners amidst this growing uncertainty.
The possibility of students being benefitted by this kind of decision appears bleak, rather attending the class and exams online has seemingly put additional strain on the already stressed students. A large percentage of the students left the city on 25 March, when the government announced an emergency lockdown.
Students perhaps had no idea that the pandemic would be prolonged when they first left Dhaka over a month ago. Moreover, the decision didn't come soon after the lockdown, but rather on the 23 April, almost a month after some of the students returned to their village homes. Consequently, and understandably, they could not carry their book, laptops and other study materials with them. Is it possible for them to sit for their exams under these circumstances? How will they concentrate on studying?
Because 70% of students are now in their village homes, they are deprived of stable 4G internet service. In fact, they rarely even find 2G service in the remote corners. "I got disconnected seven times in one course and failed to attend the zoom meeting of another course after 40 minutes of persistent trying. I could not complete any of the classes without multiple interruptions," said Jannat Marjan, my fellow classmate at East West University.
Bearing the additional expenses for internet packages during these trying times was beyond the capacity of many students, when they are struggling to even manage their foods and medicines. This is mainly because their families have little or no income for over a month due to the lockdown, and some of the parents are even on the brink of losing their jobs.
What would you say to pupils who have participated in online classes after enormous effort but are still not understanding some things? Is attending classes more vital than learning? I attended three classes of a course named Victorian Novel and Poetry so far, but unsurprisingly, I could not understand anything. The teacher of that course kept on providing lectures, paying no heed to whether the students were understanding anything or not.
Regrettably, I have not seen my teacher be bothered about any of these questions and try to make learning more enjoyable and interactive. Most of my classmates at East West University have the same issues. Hence, the question remains, "Are the teachers well-equipped to conduct remote schooling?" If the core purpose of learning - making subjects comprehensible and accessible - is not served, why should the students be forced to digest this stress?
A Bengali national daily carried out an online poll on whether students support the decision of running all educational activities online. More than 100,000 students from almost all the universities voted. According to the poll, 85% students opposed the decision. Many of them attributed their decision to poor internet connectivity. The anxiety caused by Covid-19 continues to grow among students.
Admittedly, Bangladesh is not technologically as developed as most of the developed nations. Since a majority of the students residing in the remote corners of our country now lack access to the internet, they are on the verge of despair regarding this decision.
Shamin Akter Shanta, a Lecturer of East West University said, "When we, ourselves are worried, lifting up our students' spirit and assigning them tasks is next to impossible." Conducting an online survey in East West University, I've figured out that 361 out of 366 students are against the decision made by the UGC and Education Ministry.
It is evident that the vast majority of the students are not welcoming this decision. The health and safety of the students is still a concern. What about the learners who have to go out to buy internet packages? Will the UGC or government be willing to take responsibility of these students if they were to catch Covid-19?
The author currently works at the British Council of Bangladesh as an Invigilator.