Uncertainty looming large

Nasir Uz Zaman | Published: 00:00, May 03,2020 | Updated: 12:23, May 03,2020


Teacher and students attending a class amid COVID-19 pandemic - Sony Ramany


Nasir Uz Zaman talks to teachers of schools and colleges to understand their perception about the students’ academic future amid the COVID-19 crisis

On March 16, all educational institute was declared close to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the younger citizens of the country. On April 27, the prime minister had said, considering the epidemic situation, educational institute may remain closed up to September this year. Students at all level of education from primary to tertiary are out of class for a while now, they may stay outside for some time more.

First and foremost, children’s education is at stake. Maruf Hosen, an assistant teacher of Kabi Nazrul Ideal School, Narayanganj said, school administrations are trying to find out a possible path to recover the academic losses of the students during the outbreak but we don’t have the system to act in emergency situation.

Angelica International School, Savar has chosen a temporary path to minimise the academic losses by conducting online classes. In a conversation with New Age Youth, the principal of the school, Hasina Akter, shared her anxiety that though they are temporarily conducting some online classes but it will not bring fruitful results in the long run as infrastructure is not ready yet for online classes.

In this situation, New Age Youth has talked with some teachers to know about the present condition of schools and colleges and their future planning. From the conversations, New Age Youth has learned that a large number of schools and colleges are in a dilemma to decide their strategies and a number of schools have started online class activities but most of them are facing difficulties.

Fahmida Binte Hamid, a lecturer of Sher-e-Bangla Balika Mahavidyalay informed New Age Youth that the administration is considering conducting online classes. But the absence of basic necessities for online classes is the main obstacle for it. Fahmida pointed out that most of the teachers are not trained to use online platforms as well as the tools required for online classes. Secondly, most of the students are from economically marginalised families and could not afford a desktop computer, laptop or smartphone. Moreover, the expensive internet data package is required to attend online classes and it will add to the educational expenses. Fahmida emphasised that without solving these issues, online classes will not be sustainable.

The government started telecasting classes on Sangsad Bangladesh Television. Fahmida acknowledges that something is better than nothing, but it is a unilateral process with no opportunity for student-teacher interact. It’s not the best way to go about teaching school children.

Fahmida’s concern about the infrastructural inadequacies and increased educational expense for immediate commencement of online classes is based on her experience of teaching at Sher-e-Bangla Balika Mahavidyalay, but her concerns seem relevant in larger Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019 shows that only 37.6 per cent of households in the country have access to the internet by any device from home. It also found that only 5.6 per cent of households have a computer and 50.6 per cent households have a television.

While Kabi Nazrul Ideal School, Sher-e-Bangla Balika Mahavidyalaya and many other schools like them cannot run their academic activities, some of the schools have introduced online classes. Seeking anonymity, a teacher of English version school in Dhanmondi, Dhaka talked about how they are conducting online classes. From the school, Facebook messenger groups have been created for every individual classes and all the class teachers are instructed to upload video materials there according to the class schedule. Besides uploading video lessons, home works are also given and students have to submit the home works through the messenger group within a given time. The teacher informed New Age youth that they are also taking class tests regularly.

It seems that the experience of running classes online may be class specific. Hasina Akter, principal of Angelica International School, talked about the difficulties of running online classes. In her words, ‘As an English medium school, it can be assumed that most of the students are from educated and well-off families. Our attendance shows that 40 per cent students are regularly participating in the online classes and 60 per cent are not regular. Among this 60 per cent, 20 per cent students could not attend online classes.’

When Hasina was asked about the causes of irregular attendance, she said that a number of students have gone to their villages with the parents after the announcement of general holiday, a number of students do not have internet or device access and a number of students cannot use the tools for online classes. For online classes, Angelica International School is using Zoom and WhatsApp messenger. Though the school is running online classes but the principal’s experiences are not satisfactory.

Echoing Hasina Akter’s point of view, Anjuman Parvin, child development specialist and founder director of Honey Bees Preschool and Kindergarten, said that they mainly follow the fun learning approach in class room and ensure the required environment in the school. But in present situation, students are far away from such environment as they have to live in their homes. Some cases have been reported that parents have mistreated their children due to work pressure in their home office. Altogether, there are reasons to be concerned about mental health. Online classes for preschool, kindergarten or special needs children are not quite practically possible and fruitful in the present context of Bangladesh. 

Anjuman also pointed that some private educational institutions are trying to start their academic activities as the institutions’ financial survival are depended on tuition fees. Taking proper health safety measures within the given physical space would be very challenging. Anjuman thinks, such schools must not risk these children’s lives for the purpose of business or for the institutions’ survival.

While Anjuman raised the point of institutions’ financial crisis, Nahid Sultana, headmistress of European Standard School, English version described their struggle. Nahid pointed that not only the students are struggling but also the academic staffs. The main source of income of the private schools is the tuition fees and all staff salaries comes from there. So with a prolonged closure of schools, staff salaries are also at stake.

Nahid described that they are in a dilemma. They cannot open the school risking the students’ lives and cannot give salaries if they cannot run the school. If the educational institutions would remain close till September, it will also not possible for the parents to pay such large amount of dues. In this situation, Nahid urges the government and the policy makers to take practical decision immediately to save the students and the academic staffs. Nahid also pointed that the government should offer incentive to save the teachers.

On April 27, Secondary and Higher Education Division, under education ministry, secretary Mahbub Hossain told New Age that if the educational institutions open soon, they would easily adjust the gap. If the institutions remained closed till September, they would consider some alternative possibility, but he refused to share any details.

Md Nazmul Arefin, lecturer of Bhawal Badre Alam Government College informed New Age Youth that they have not yet received any directive from the authorities about how they would tackle the academic crisis. Some institutions or teachers are conducting online classes on their own but a systemic, structural solution is needed.

Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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