When the pandemic Covid-19 hit Bangladesh in early 2020, neither the government, nor the students and teachers community had imagined it to be a long-term situation. A temporary suspension of academic activities turned out to be a 452 days of lost education. In this context, students of different public universities are demanding immediate reopening of universities. Talking to students and teachers, Nahid Riyasad writes about the tertiary education during the pandemic
On March 16, 2019, Bangladesh temporarily closed all the educational institutions as a measure to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus among the students. Till then, most of the private institutions till tertiary level are offering online education whereas public institutions are yet to get a definitive direction from the authorities.
In a joint press briefing by the primary and education ministry on May 26, 2021, the authorities have decided to reopen schools in phases from June 13, 2021. The press release chalked out a brief plan for the school going students. The education ministry is planning to hold in-person classes for SSC and HSC examinees of 2021 and 2022 six days a week.
Meanwhile, students of public universities are demonstrating at different campuses demanding reopening of respective institutions. All the tertiary level students of public universities of Bangladesh have already lost one and a half year from their academic life but the authorities have failed to come up with any concrete plan for them.
Students and netizens expressed their concerns about a jump in the COVID-19 infection rate if educational institutions reopen without vaccinating the students and the teachers. ‘Everybody aged over 18 years must be vaccinated before the reopening of educational institutions and everybody must be forced to use masks at all institutions,’ echoed eminent virologist Md Nazrul Islam.
Directorate of Primary Education director Md Mijanur Rahman said that instructions had been passed to bring all the kindergarten, non-government primary and English medium school teachers to bring under the vaccination coverage.
According to a New Age report on March 2021, at least 42 lakh teachers, staff members and students aged over 18 years will remain out of urgent COVID-19 vaccination coverage as the government planned to vaccinate 10.1 lakh out of 52.10 lakh teachers, staff and students on an urgent basis before the reopening of educational institutions.
Nonetheless, students of different tertiary level students are taking to the streets demanding the authorities to reopen educational institutions, take the pending examinations and publish the results as soon as possible.
On June 3, 2021, a group of students from seven DU affiliated colleges protested at Dhaka’s Nilkhet with demands of reopening their campuses and start their educational career.
Students of the University of Rajshahi demonstrated on June 3 with demands of taking examinations and opening of the residential halls.
While talking to New Age Youth, Students’ Federation Bangladesh’s RU unit president Mohabbot Hossail Milon said, ‘We have been demanding to clear our examinations but the authorities seem to be paying no attention to the students’ demands and that is why we will continue our protests.’
RU authorities announced to take the pending examinations of 2019 from June 20, 2021, and pending examinations of 2020 from July 4, 2020. Residential halls will be closed till further notice.
In the meantime, few public universities announced their plans to reopen offline academic activities.
University of Dhaka authorities decides to take the pending examinations for under-graduation and graduation level from July 1. However, the residential halls will not be opened for the students. They also decide that if the COVID-19 situation deteriorates, examinations will be taken online.
Raihan Sharif, a third-year student of DU and a non-resident of Dhaka told New Age Youth, ‘Taking examinations without opening the halls is a one-eyed decision. Where will students like me, who do not have a place to stay in Dhaka, take part in the examinations? How are we supposed to prepare if we have nowhere to stay?’
On June 1, the university’s academic council took the decision. The examinations that already started but halted for the pandemic will start from June 15, the body told the media. They will also try to curb down on a plausible 4-6 month session jam by implementing a ‘disaster recovery plan’.
Pending examinations of seven affiliated colleges will be physically taken, they said.
On June 2, Jahangirnagar University’s syndicate meeting decides on a 50 mark online examination to assess the students. University authorities will prioritise departments to take the examinations and the departments lagging behind the academic schedule will get their chances first, the authorities told the media.
However, the syndicate did not announce a definitive date for the commencement of the pending examinations.
Seeking anonymity, a final year public university student told New Age Youth, ‘I am eager to sit for the examinations as already two years from my academic career is gone. I understand that opening residential halls might not be a possible option at this moment but the examinations should be taken,’ he said.
The student also expressed concern for his and many of his friends’ deteriorating mental health and frustration, ‘Losing time at this point of life can never be compensated. If this situation continues, it will add more number to the increasing suicide rate among young Bangladeshis.’
Zahidul Islam teaches social science at a public university in the southern part of Bangladesh. He also expressed the same concern and thinks that the mental health of the students and the uncertainty concerning their career is taking a huge toll on their mental health.
‘If the authorities fail to come up with a robust and contextualised plan from the university level students, especially for the public university students, many will lose their hope and motivation. It is of utmost importance to formulate a plan that ensures health measures and start academic activities,’ he told New Age Youth.
In September 2020, as a part of public health and education-related planning, a guideline was prepared following the orders of the prime minister’s office, cabinet division, public administration ministry and health service division circulars and recommendations of the WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and CDC of the USA.
The guideline for the schools was sent to the schools and they were asked to follow the guideline when institutions reopen. Now, a similar guideline for tertiary level students is necessary.
It is up to the government and the concerned authorities how efficiently and effectively they can formulate a guideline for the public university students, who have already lost two years of their academic life. The sooner the authorities come up with a robust structure for reopening the universities and take the pending examinations, the better for the students.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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