The catastrophic effect of Covid-19 has caused immense miseries to all sections of the people in society worldwide. Like others, the student community of the world is the most serious suffer as they are compelled to stay at home for the past seven or eight months to avoid Covid-19 contamination. The students of Bangladesh have been passing a very tense situation like the students of different countries. Most specifically, the intensity of the anxiety of the HSC students is much heavier than others as this result is considered as the entry-level qualification at the universities.
We all know that the HSC examination was scheduled to be started on the 1st of April. Therefore, the students and guardians are very worried about their future during the closing of all educational institutions. Taking into account the health safety of the vast majority of students and their guardians who are typically dependent on public transport during the examination, the government has taken a very wise decision to award the grades to the students based on their results in the JSC and SSC examinations. The decision to provide grades based on previous results may, of course, have some criticisms. For instance, the number of students with HSC qualification would be higher since all examinees would obtain grades based on their previous results. On the other hand, students who intended to make better result in the HSC examination would not get a chance to do so. Despite having some criticisms, the government has taken the right decision as they had no other choice but to cancel the HSC examination. We must acknowledge the fact that life is more precious than the HSC result.Once the decision to cancel the HSC examination was made by the government, there has been a wide-ranging discussion among the educationists, students and guardians on the modality of the university entry test. Meanwhile, the Association of the Vice-Chancellors of Public Universities has decided on holding an online entry test. However, the decision has not been endorsed by the five public universities that are regulated by the 1973 University Act.
The deans' committee of Dhaka University has decided not to take online admission examinations for the students. Instead, they have decided to hold the test in divisional cities to reduce the hassle of the students and guardians. This is a good decision by any means. There are, however, concerns about the possibility of Covid-19 contamination among the students as ensuring physical distancing in the examination halls would be a difficult task due to a huge number of students. The modality of the entry tests is still to be finalized by four other universities. It is expected that these universities will follow the Dhaka University's decision in this regard. There is no doubt that taking the entry test physically is the best possible alternative for the selection of the best students. However, conducting entry test across the country is a challenging task. Most importantly, the issue of question paper leakage will be one of the most critical management issues in this examination along with ensuring physical distancing in the examination halls.
When it concerns the online-based entry test, several issues are to be considered. For instance, to attend an online entry test a student must have at least one android cell phone, the uninterrupted supply of internet connection and electricity. In view of the background of most of our students, it is very difficult to ensure that these conditions are met on the examination date. Any mechanical problem during the examination will deprive thousands of students. Moreover, if the students adopt unfair means during the examination what would be the strategy to stop this practice? Therefore, it would be a real challenge for the authority to ensure justice for all the students through an online test.
Another issue relating to the entry test is the UGC's decision to hold a unified cluster-based entry test. In recent years, the honourable President of Bangladesh has been stressing the importance of holding a unified entry test to reduce the miseries of students and guardians. This has also been discussed in the academia of the country. Though the UGC holds meetings with the Vice-Chancellors of public universities before the entry test every year, they could not reach an agreement on this due to disagreement of five universities run under 1973 act. This year, the UGC has already held discussions with the Vice-Chancellors of public universities as regards to holding cluster-based entry test.
This cluster-based entry test is being practised successfully in the agriculture universities in the country. Even our honourable Education Minister has stressed the importance on holding a cluster-based entry test this year. However, ensuring a fair balance in such a modality is also a great challenge. To reach an agreement on holding an entry-level test based on a cluster requires the positive intention of five old universities.
The entry test in the medical colleges is indeed undertaken through only one test and this system has been working well despite some allegations of question paper leakage. The system cannot be considered responsible for the leakage. Rather, the responsible authorities should be held responsible for the leakage. Therefore, the government should take a strong decision to enforce a unified entry test based on the cluster system. We know that every system works through trial and error. The unified entry test may have some negative sides. But, we would never be able to develop a successful system unless we try it.Covid-19 has brought different types of negative change in our way of life. At the same time, it has led us to make some radical changes in different aspects of our life. For instance, online-based classes were never been expected at the educational institutions in the country. However, the system has at least started working with some loopholes. In course of time, we would certainly overcome these challenges. Therefore, the government should enforce a unified entry test for all public universities based on clusters. Of course, the system should be designed having discussed with the university administration. Moreover, the priority of five old universities that are regulated by the 1973 act should be given importance while deciding the new system.
We all know that the 1973 Act has given autonomy to the public universities in the country. But, it does not mean that we will not be able to amend various provisions of the act to cope with the demands of the time. We must accommodate the priorities of a new changing environment. Enactment of amendment in the existing law to accommodate the needs is universal. When the law was enacted back in 1973, no one could imagine that the universities would have to face different challenges to accommodate a huge number of students for admission. Therefore, the university administration along with the government must consider modifying the rules. Besides, we must take the sufferings of the students and their guardians associated with the entry test into cognizance. The Education Ministry, the UGC and the administration of all public universities should sit together to find the best solutions in this regard. As we have changed our lifestyle to get adjusted to the new normal life due to Covid-19, we must also change the system of our entry test to select the best candidates at the university level as well as keep our students safe from getting contaminated by Covid-19.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.