Life, as we knew it even a few months ago, has completely changed due to the ongoing pandemic. The Bangladesh government imposed lockdown restrictions, which resulted in all educational institutions closing down from March 18 earlier this year.
With schools, colleges and universities shut down, millions of students were left to face an unforeseen uncertainty. The education ministry already allowed private universities to conduct online classes and examinations back in April. Many students, however, complained about not being able to put in as much attention as they would in a physical classroom. The real question remains whether the quality of education has plummeted, and whether the students all over the country are being able to cope with the new practice of studying remotely for the first time.
Many renowned educational institutions have been seen coming forward to help the students in these dire times. The authorities of the Mastermind School, a well-known institution that offers English medium education, have decided to waive 50% of its tuition fees for the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into consideration the financial struggles many parents may be facing.
BRAC University, one of the leading institutions in the country, also announced the establishment of a student assistance fund to support its students who are experiencing difficulties. “All non-tuition fees will be waived. This is generally equivalent to a reduction of 10% or more in tuition and fees,” the university published on its website. In addition, the university is also working on providing special assistance to students lacking internet access.
The school students in many rural parts of the country are facing problems, such as a lack of necessary equipment or a stable internet connection for online classes. In many places, like rural Chandpur, the schools have remained shut since March 18, when the government first ordered schools and all other educational institutions to close. If the pandemic is prolonged, the schools might witness a fall in the number of students coming back when things settle down again.
The government has taken an early initiative of televised classes, as most children in Bangladesh do not have access to the internet. Organizations like UNICEF are working with the government to offer remote learning programs using radio, mobile phones, and internet platforms. The scenario in the capital is different, however, with schools conducting online classes and exams. This raises another question of whether there are other long-term impacts and complications in social development in the future among today’s younger students, as there is a lack of interaction with their peers. International experts -- like Dr Cameron Caswell, PhD, a certified development psychologist -- say that children are very much likely to bounce back quickly if isolation only lasts a few months; as young children are used to interacting using online platforms, so it is easier for them to adapt. Longer periods of isolation, on the contrary, might have a different outcome.
Online classes have limitations, especially in higher levels of education. Certain university departments, like architecture and lab-based subjects, find it difficult to conduct their regular activities. Having to prepare digital versions of the models have put many architecture students in distress, many of whom do not own the right equipment and software to do so. Speaking to a few, it was evident that they worry about these shortcomings reflecting on their grades, something they would not have to worry about in a usual scenario. Other departments seemed to have organized their syllabus content in a much smoother manner. “Considering the fact that not everyone has stable internet connection, the authorities have decided to not take time-bound exams. Hence we got assignments worth a lot of marks, so it wasn’t much of a struggle,” said Nuzhat, a final year BBA student of a renowned private university.
As the number of Coronavirus patients increases every day, some experts suggest building special classrooms in schools, which still remains as a questionable solution, as it might be very expensive to do. In addition, travelling to and fro could expose the children and teachers to the virus. Until a solid solution can be thought out, there are not many alternatives to conducting classes online -- risking millions of less privileged children being left out from receiving formal education.