The public universities are likely to return to its previous session jam in the wake of the perennial shutdown centring the coronavirus pandemic.
The authorities of the country’s highest seats of learning are unable to offer students alternative online education due to absence of requisite logistics and lack of access to internet for all students.All the 46 public universities remain closed since March 24 and the government has extended the closure till May 16 to keep the spread of Covid-19 at bay.
Besides, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 27 said all educational institutions might remain closed till September if the coronavirus situation does not improve.
Academics warn that if the shutdown of universities is prolonged, there is a strong possibility that session jam is likely to recur in the public universities.
The academic session jam eliminated at most of the universities after years of hard work but the universities are going to fall in the problem again.
Educationists said the authorities of public universities should go for online remote learning system in order to minimise the loss on the part of the students due to the shutdown.
Talking to daily sun, former Dhaka University vice-chancellor (VC) Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique said: “We are not being able to use this time significantly. But in developed countries, it is seen that students are involved in academic activities online.”He said: “It is true that many students do not have access to internet. But bringing them under the internet or providing them with such support is not difficult.”
Stressing the online education during such a crisis, the educationist said “The country’s universities should carry out online academic activities like the other countries to minimise the impact of the closures.”
Islamic University VC Prof Dr Harun-Ur-Rashid Askari told daily sun that “The universities are shut for a long time due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Our university has already started online classes in a limited scale considering the issue of session jam.”
Mentioning that the universities should adopt a down-to-earth policy on education during such critical juncture, he said, “Universities are like bicycles. If you don’t ride or not keep pushing the pedals, they will fall. We want our universities to continue to run, not to fall.”
Prof Askari said, “An alternative mode of education should be ensured for students during lockdown in a bid to ensure sustainability in the academia. Because, the closures must hit the academic calendar and lead to session jams.”
Several universities, however, including Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University are carrying out academic activities online.
Apart from this, the country’s 56 out of 105 private universities are now holding classes using online platform to minimise the impact of the shoutdown due to coronavirus.
But the authorities of many public universities say many students, especially those living in rural areas, lack the steady internet connection or the devices to be able to learn remotely.
Because of this, many opined that they are not capable of giving online classes in this situation due to lack of internet access for the students.
Dhaka University VC Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman said, “Many DU students do not have internet access as they are now staying in villages. If the universities start online education, those who have no internet access could feel left out.”
He said, “We have called an online meeting with all the deans on May 11 to discuss how to make up the loss the students are incurring due to the closure.”
“We will take a decision after discussing the issue with everyone on that day. We need to make plan by calculating how many months we are behind due to the shutdown. We have to think deeply about these issues,” said Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman.
Chittagong University VC Prof Shireen Akhter said, “Internet service is not accessible in many villages across the country. If we go for online classes, most of the students will miss it out due to lack of internet access.”
Top officials of the universities said they are not digitised universities and they do not even have email addresses of all students while many students do not have internet access as they are now staying in village homes.
Once normalcy returns, the university authorities say they will hold extra classes on public holidays and weekends to make up students losses, while if possible, the universities will also cancel or shorten the summer vacation in June to make up the losses.
University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah said, “We have already allowed the private universities to carry out online academic activities in the coronavirus situation as the shutdown is lingering.”
He said, “The universities running online classes will have to follow the UGC’s guideline for evaluation of the students to ensure the quality of education.”