Bangladesh university students boycott classes, exams

Thin attendence at schools, colleges, ministers make contradictory statements on closure of educational institutions

Shahin Akhter and Arifur Rahman | Published: 00:40, Mar 16,2020 | Updated: 00:50, Mar 16,2020


Dhaka University students form a human chain in front of Raju memorial on the campus on Sunday demanding closure of academic activities in the wake of coronavirus outbreak. — New Age photo

Students of different universities on Sunday boycotted classes and examinations across the country while attendance of students dropped at different educational institutions in Dhaka amid fears of coronavirus spread.

Till Sunday the government did not take any decision regarding the closure of these institutions while different ministers came up with dissimilar comments on the issue.

Students of several departments of Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Bangladesh Agricultural University boycotted classes and examinations.

The usual scenario in Dhaka changed in the past few days with lesser presence of students at almost all schools, colleges and universities as fear grips people after the detection of the coronavirus infection cases in Bangladesh in the past week.

Ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on Sunday, when addressing a news briefing at the party central office, said that the government is mulling closing down the educational institutions in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

‘Closing the schools and colleges is being discussed at the high level of the government. We are intensively monitoring the situation. We will take necessary steps at the right time,’ he said.

Responding to a question after an inter-ministerial meeting at the secretariat, health minister Zahid Maleque told reporters that the education ministry would take decision about the closure of educational institutions.

‘We have advised them how to maintain personal hygiene and protect students and others from being infected,’ said the minister, adding that schools, unlike places of other public gathering, were not considered a coronavirus exposure location.  

On the same day, at a programme held at Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium, education minister Dipu Moni said, ‘The situation has not yet reached such a bad stage so that shutting down of the educational institutions would be necessary.

She said that they would order closure of the institutions if the virus was seen to be spreading through local transmission.

So far the infection cases were imported cases and the government was trying to stop these through different measures, she said and urged all not to panic.

Despite such words of reassurance, different student organisations, general students and their guardians are demanding closure of the educational institutions to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Teachers also demanded closure of the educational institutions while some of them said that they were trying to discourage students not to attend classes but they could not close these institutions without government directives. 

Experts and educationists observed that the educational institutions were exposed to risks of the novel virus spread as hundreds of students, teachers and guardians gather there daily.

On Sunday, most of the students of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology did not attend the classes on Sunday while many students at Fazley Rabbi Hall of Dhaka Medical College Hospital also left the campus.

Director of Students’ Welfare of BUET professor Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said that students and teachers both are terribly afraid of the coronavirus infection but could not take any decision due to any such directive from the government.

Students of at least 30 out of 83 departments of Dhaka University, including Bangla, Economics, Political Science, Health Economics, Anthropology, Institute of Education and Research, Mass Communication and Journalism, Zoology and Law, boycotted all kinds of academic activities.

Dhaka University Central Student Union also demanded temporary suspension of academic activities until the situation improved.

On the day, four protesting students suspended their two-day hunger strike demanding cancellation of all academic activities and vacating residential halls.

Meanwhile, a group of students of the university on Sunday morning formed a human chain protesting at the unhygienic ‘gono rooms’ allocated for the first year students.

The university vice-chancellor professor Md Akhtaruzzaman said that they were yet to take any decision to shut down academic activities and requested all students not to panic.

New Age Mymensingh correspondent reported that students of all faculties in Bangladesh Agricultural University on Sunday announced to boycott classes and exams for indefinite period starting from today in fear of coronavirus infection.

Leaders of student associations of all faculties informed the university administration about the decision after taking mass signatures from students.

The university vice-chancellor professor Lutful Hassan said that without permission of the government it was not possible to close the university.

The Federation of Bangladesh University Teachers Association on Sunday in a statement demanded immediate cancellation of academic activities at all educational institutions to prevent novel coronavirus spread and urged the prime minister to announce early summer vacation to tackle any untoward situation.

On the day, the roads at busy Dhanmondi area were free from traffic gridlock during school hours while only a handful of guardians were seen taking their children back home.

‘At my class only eight out of 30 students came today,’ said a Class II student of Sunnydale School in the capital.

Some students of Rayerbazar High School were seen standing at Dhanmondi road 10/A while they said that they had skipped school fearing the spread of the virus while their parents forced them to go to school.                                                        

A father of a student, Mozammal Hoque Chanchal, said that the students could get infected even on their way to and from schools.

Del Mahfooza Hossain, head mistress of Dhanmondi Government Girls High School, told New Age that the presence of students at the school was decreasing day by day.

‘Schools are at 100 per cent risk as they are coronavirus exposure locations. Any student can get infected with the virus from any other sources,’ said Viqarunnisa Noon School and College principal Fauzia Rezwan.

Another head of a capital school said that they were in an awkward situation as they could not ask students not to come to school.

Some schools also gave notices to the students that if they skipped schools then all lessons would be sent to them through their email addresses.

Meanwhile Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education on March 11 issued some directives for all offices and educational institutions under it to hold all cultural, sports and other programmes related to public gatherings later and hold assembly at classrooms till further notice.

Professor AKM Mosharraf Hossain, chairman of respiratory medicine department Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told New Age that schools and colleges were in great risk of coronavirus infection as washing hands again and again was not a realistic solution at schools.

Mosharraf, also a member of the committee formed by the hospital to prevent coronavirus, said that it was not possible in the schools to ensure safe distances from students with fever, coughing and sneezing and it was also not possible for the school authorities to make arrangement for sanitisers for all.

National Health Rights Movement chairman and former president of Bangladesh Medical Association Rashid-e-Mahbub urged the parents not to let their children to get near any relatives who came from abroad which could pose a threat to the student community.

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