Students demand reopening dormitories before exams
The Dhaka University (DU) has remained closed for over 15 months since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh and the situation is getting worse day by day.
The university moved its academic activities online but for different limitations, online classes have not proved effective as “expected”.
Amid the student's long demand to take their final exams, the university authorities have decided to hold in-person final examinations of all academic years from July if the Covid-19 situation in the country remains under control. If not, the examinations will be held online.
Authorities in confusion
After the DU authorities decided to take exams, some departments and institutions fixed the date but as the Covid situation is worsening day by day, uncertainty looms again over holding the exams.
Like other departments, the Department of Accounting and Information Systems and Philosophy department had announced in-person exam schedules but postponed them later. Psychology and the Institute of Leather Engineering and Technology prolonged the online exam dates. Institute of Education and Research fixed July 7 for in-person final exams but later moved the date to August.
Students are worried about such uncertainty. Tanvir Ahmed Fahad, a student of the Philosophy department, said: "Most departments postponed exam schedules and some departments like Persian Language and Literature are taking their exams. In such a situation, we're uncertain whether our exams will be held or not. If the exams are held, we'll have to manage accommodations in the city to stay for some days as the dormitories will not reopen.
"Many students come to Dhaka and rent for off-campus accommodations in the city but they are not sure what to do amid the uncertainty.”
Deans and chairs of different departments said they were instructed to take exams and they will do so. The decision depends on the academic council and the vice-chancellor.
Asked about residential facilities for students, deans said it depends on the authorities.
Contacted, the Dean of the Social Sciences Faculty Dr Sadeka Halim said: "In a recent meeting with all chairs of 16 departments under my faculty, 10 departments said they will take in-person offline exams and the rest decided to take the exams online. The situation is uncertain and we'll have to take further decisions considering the pandemic situation."
Asked about residential facilities for students, she said: "It depends on the academic council and administration. We, the deans, told them to consider residential facilities for students. Otherwise, all students cannot attend in-person exams. A majority of the students, particularly those from far-flung areas of the country, just can't afford to pay rent for off-campus accommodations in the city. We told them and they [provost standing committee, VC, Pro-VC] are responsible for making decisions regarding this. We'll do whatever they say."
Asked if any student is unable to attend exams for valid reasons, Prof Sadeka Halim said: "It depends on faculties and institutions. The Social Sciences Faculty will consider later if anyone fails to attend the in-person exams."
DU Pro-VC (Education) Prof Maksud Kamal said: "All departments are independent when it comes to taking exams. We instructed them and they can take exams whether online or offline."
DU Pro-VC (Administration) Prof Dr Abdus Samad said: "The situation is worse than before. Students shouldn't come to the campus before they are vaccinated."
Asked about online exams, Dr Samad said: "The majority of students can't even join classes. Statistics show that 55% of the students cannot join their classes for various limitations. So, it's illogical to take exams online while the majority of our students are out of the frame."
Asked how exams will be taken amid the pandemic, Director of the Institute of Education and Research, Prof Dr Abdul Malek said: "We'll follow the central decision of the university."
Arts Faculty Dean Prof Dr Abu Md Delower Hossain also said the same.
Engineering Faculty Dean Prof Dr Md Hasanuzzaman said: "The VC knows better whether the exams will be held or not amid the country's worsening Covid-19 situation."
Vice-Chancellor Prof Akhtaruzzaman said: "Exams will be taken as per our previous decision - either online or offline. If the pandemic worsens or a lockdown is imposed, then students shouldn't be moved to Dhaka."
He, however, declined to talk in detail over the phone as there is a chance of “misinterpretation”.
Online not a good option
All the educational institutions, including universities, suspended academic activities on March 15 last year to curb the spread of Covid-19. Later, the DU introduced online classes from the first week of July last following a directive of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
But for various limitations, the authorities were unable to ensure the participation of all students in online classes as many still face problems, including the lack of proper devices, cost of internet use and network problems in remote areas.
A study, conducted last year, showed that only 55.3% of the students from public and private universities have access to a laptop, PC, or tablet to attend an online class. The most important factor for online classes is internet connectivity and the survey revealed that 55% of the students are not supported by proper internet connections to continue with online education.
Former Ducsu member Tanvir Hasan Saikat said: "Online exams can be an option but not a better one. Many students do not have adequate technical measures, including laptop or mobile phone and good internet speed, to sit for exams online. Many of them are facing mental health problems because of the Covid-19 situation. Authorities should reopen dormitories as soon as possible and vaccinate all the students on a priority basis."
A section of general students and student's leaders oppose the university's decision to take exams while remaining residential dormitories are closed. They said most of the students of the university are from middle-class families and it will be difficult, even impossible for them to manage accommodations in Dhaka on their own.
Financial problems are a big issue while security is another.
They demanded that all the halls be reopened before taking exams considering the student's financial and security problems.
Former Ducsu member Tanvir Hasan Saikat said: "This decision completely goes against the student's interest. The administration is not a student-friendly one. We don't oppose exams but residential halls should be reopened first."
Tuhin Emran, a third-year student of Mass Communication and Journalism, said: "Most of us are facing an economic crisis and we'll face another big blow if we need to pay for off-campus accommodations during the exams. However, most of us live in rural areas and the internet network is too slow, even unavailable in some areas!"
Obaidur Rahman Sohan, a third-year student of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, said: "The authorities must reopen dormitories before taking exams. Many of our fellows have no logistics to sit for exams online."
On December 10 last year, the DU had announced plans to take exams online but they postponed the decision amid student protests.