COVID-19 is shaping the reality of our time and it has not even started yet. However, by now, millions of students worldwide are feeling the tremor. The crisis, among the students, have jeopardised the lives of those who have recently graduated, at the end of their studies and planning for their career or a degree abroad. Istiaque Ahmed Nahian talks about their uncertain future
TIME is a tricky concept. Human beings are still confused about when it all began and when it will all be over. Before the recent emergence of the COVID-19, people were comfortably able to evade the ever menacing question of ‘Who am I’. Mindless rat race was pretty much evident. But no one can use time as an excuse anymore for avoiding social gatherings.
This pandemic has opened the gates of anxiety, both positive and negative. People have somewhat realised better the value of familial and social relationships. They got to stop and think about what is really important to them. We have seen people sharing old photos and memories in social media through which they reinvented their relationships and relived their happier times. Well, not all kinds of revelations are the happy ones. The students and previous victims of session jams of Bangladesh are unluckily observing the re-emergence of it, from which they were beginning to recover slowly, but successfully.
The newspapers, magazines and the social media platforms are focusing on building productivity while staying indoors. But this just won’t cut it for the fresh graduates who have just completed their studies and were waiting for job interviews or were applying for studying abroad. They have almost nothing to do except for waiting.
Samantha Sanwar, a graduate of Dhaka University who is still waiting for her post-graduation result said, ‘I was looking forward to applying for my second masters in Australia, but things got difficult after this pandemic. The application process got delayed, so I have to apply for the January session which has a lower rate of student enrollment. Moreover, I have to be really careful about selecting a particular university keeping in mind the areas of the virus spread clusters. It is pretty much evident that the enrollment process will be delayed by a year. I was completely at my wits end because of this situation because I thought I had enough time for the application process, but looks like I didn’t. Most of the universities enquire about the reasons and durations of study gap which will make things more difficult for me. Already the universities have limited their scholarship and a lot of overseas students were dependent on them.’
Samantha also works fulltime in a reputed filmmaking agency. About career planning she says, ‘The ones who were working part time or working temporarily in an office looking for better options are in a fix now. Because of the current situation of the job market, keeping one’s current job has become difficult let alone shifting it. It is a long haul to think about productivity during these times but people can really try developing their sector-wise skills if they want. The people who are afraid of job interviews can work on it by improving their English speaking skills. A lot of Universities are offering online degrees which can help those who have always cherished the dream of achieving an international degree.’
It is no surprise that the rat race will continue right after from the moment this pandemic is over. We are a nation who will never resort to compromising their studies at any situation. We have seen that the University Grants Commission had started giving directives about online classes to the private universities when the whole nation was bombarded with the adversities of the COVID-19 due to the limited health facilities of our country.
Questions still remain about the publishing of the results of the ongoing semester judging by class assignments and midterm exams. This is clearly prioritising quantity over quality. Although re-exams for improving grades are included in the UGC directives, it will do little good to the students who are on their last semester. Re-exams are uncertain and it will only delay their respective job and university application processes.
Humayra Anan, an architecture graduate from Bangladesh University of Engineering and technology says, ‘I am somewhat used to this. My classes began 7 months after the completion of our admission process. It took me 7 years to complete a 5-year degree due to session jams. Unfortunately, I couldn’t collect my certificates because of the lockdowns. On top of that I cannot even apply for any teaching jobs this year. Even the options for foreign degrees have become limited because the universities are curbing the scholarships. A lot of the students are stuck on foreign lands unsure about their academic future. The Architectural firms are working from home because construction works have stopped obviously. Then again, they would not rely on the new recruits who are working from home because they do not have any field level experience,’ she expressed her uncertainty.
‘Same thing goes for the government job recruitments. I know, talking about productivity in these situations might seem odd, but one must try if he or she can afford it. For instance, I have been exploring software which I was too lazy to explore before. I have been reading various journals and observing various international projects related to architecture. I am trying hard to stay as active as I can, because If I do not do that, I will not be able to go outside once this pandemic ends as I am afraid I might find staying indoors more comfortable. I always console myself by saying that the night is always the darkest before dawn,’ Anan adds.
Only focusing on the mental aspects of COVID-19 would not bring food on the table in the future. We cannot just oversimplify things by comparing the situations of the west to ours. Every country has their distinct economy and socio-political reality. Cooking tons of foods and working out in the terraces would just not cut it for us. Youth, especially the young graduates are the rays of hope. But the unfavorable working conditions here are forcing them to go abroad for a better living. A huge number of university educated youth want to settle abroad. Even in favourable conditions of business, Bangladesh is ranked 168 among 190 economies of the world which is really depressing.
We cannot ignore the fact that an elitist mindset is evident in us. Graduates are hardly encouraged to invest their time and money in agricultural sectors and other promising cottage economy ventures. Our society and education system’s sheer focus on the western influenced individualism is one of the reasons we are in this barrel right now. The intellectuals should stop writing pages after pages about grown up mistakes, rather they should talk about the grooming of the individuals who were supposed to think about the whole community, not just themselves.
Md Kabir Hossain is a young lecturer of English at Sir Ashutosh Government College Chittagong, who cleared the 35th BCS examination. Talking about his experiences of session jam he says, ‘During my university days in Chittagong, career planning was so limited because of the horrible nature of session jams at my department. The students at the prominent universities in the capital are somewhat lucky because of the semester system. But we had to study in the year system, and the session jams were only the tip of the iceberg. Students were constantly failing because of the uncertain exam routines. This later hampered our overall result and in the end, our only options were government jobs. Even there, we were at a disadvantage because we already had lost some valuable years, not to mention the menacing 56 percent quota.’
Free will is only some abstract writing on scriptures if one cannot practice it due to societal and economic shortcomings. Our promising young graduates are the worst victims of that. For the progress of Bangladesh, we need individuals who actually know about Bangladesh and its context. Bundles of foreign journals have not done much good till date. The cramped up graduates who cracked to the government sectors are in their comfortable quarters and have not played their promised parts too.
But it is promising that they are not the whole reality in our humongous population of 17 crores. The construction of a much more conscious middle class must be started, and it can only be done from the scratch, that means the schools.
I hope one day the students of Bangladesh will discover the joy of learning rather than reveling in poems like, ‘Aaj Amader Chuti.’ Because learning is always better than merely struggling.
Istiaque Ahmed Nahian is a post-graduate in English from the University of Dhaka
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