The Covid-19 pandemic has not only adversely affected the economy and health sector worldwide and has forced global citizens to change their lifestyles. We are now living a new normal life as the Corona protocol requires us to wear masks, wash hands frequently, and avoid crowded places. Most importantly, global citizens have been compelled to stay at home for the last one and a half years. A prolonged stay at home has created a sense of isolation among people of all ages. The worst sufferers of the new normal life are the children as they could not come out of their homes, attend schools and play with their friends. Even a large group of kids are suffering from psychological trauma.
The new normal life has been forcing people to become dependent on the virtual world. Such dependency on the internet and virtual world has been unscrambling family and social bonding, making them isolated from one another in the family. Such isolation will not only spoil the kids but also make them psychologically ill. In addition to the compulsion to stay at home, most of our younger generation has remained out of touch with academic activities. There is a proverb that "an idle brain is a devil's workshop". With a prolonged stay at home without getting involved in serious academic works, a generation is on the verge of becoming handicapped. Though there has been a wide-ranging discussion on the catastrophic effect of the pandemic on the economy and public health, the education sector has not received adequate attention from all concerned.
We should, of course, stop blaming the government for everything, as we have done in the past. Many believe that nothing can be done without the government's help. However, during pandemics, every citizen — regardless of class or faith — has a responsibility to help the government fight back. Since children are growing increasingly dependent on the internet due to staying at home for extended periods, guardians must constantly watch them and mark their boundaries. Their future life may be ruined if they become overly dependent. We should all spend time with our children and other family members. As a result of the pandemic, many people have had the opportunity to spend more time with their family members. These folks would have remained busy in other business had there been no pandemic. Therefore, we all should maximise whatever opportunities have been offered by the pandemic.
Along with the guardians, teachers should also play a crucial role in helping the students at all levels. Due to the expansion of digital Bangladesh, life has become very easy. While most educational institutions have transferred traditional classroom-based education into an online system worldwide, we are still lagging. Teachers should therefore come forward to stay connected with the students. Of course, there are some limitations in terms of devices, internet connectivity and uninterrupted electricity from the perspective of the students. However, it is also true that the government has provided loans to the students to purchase devices, and the internet rate has been reduced. What is needed is the positive intention of the teaching communities. We have already witnessed that the academic activities of English medium schools and private universities are going on online in full swing. These students have not been affected anymore. If they could manage to continue their education online, why public schools and universities would fail? This is a million-dollar question that requires to be understood by all stakeholders.
One may argue that the financial capacity of private university students is much higher than that of the students studying at public universities. This might be true. However, if we assess the overall background of the students studying in public universities, it would be evident that a large section of students does have devices, internet and electricity. Of course, we should think of those who do not have. However, at the same time, the process should continue as we do not know when we would be able to resume our physical, academic activities. According to my own experience as a university teacher, teachers and students' intentions are the major obstacles to moving forward with online education.
Around 25 per cent of students in my online classes stay connected compared to 85-90 per cent when I started taking online classes a year ago. Neither a shortage of devices nor a lack of internet is to blame for this decline in class attendance. Instead, it is due to the students' lack of desire. I am arguing in this manner because whenever I send a message to my students in a messenger group, around 80 to 90 per cent of the students react instantly, which means that they remain active on Facebook all the time. That is why I believe that the intention of the teachers and students is the most important hindrance in public universities or schools.
Even there is a lack of willingness among the university authorities to decide on taking online examinations. Taking online examinations could be difficult at the school or college level as a large group of students may not be familiar with the process of operating zoom or Google meet, or other apps. However, the majority of university students are familiar with these methods. If there is a group of students unfamiliar with these methods, they could be trained by the ICT division of the university. We must acknowledge that we are passing through the worst time of the century. Thus, we must take a positive decision to take online examinations to ensure that the students' academic life is not interrupted. Even we could think of introducing online open book examinations, presentations, and other methods of examination. Uncertainty over the examination is another important factor that demotivates students to stay connected with online classes. Therefore, there is a worry that a whole generation may be adversely affected during the pandemic.
It is not the time to become impatient. Rather, it is time to hold our horses for the time being. Since the vaccination, which is the only hope to keep safe from contamination, has been running in full swing in the country, the good days are not very far away. The credible leadership of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina deserves thanks and appreciation for being successful in managing adequate doses of vaccines for the countrymen. We expect that we would come out from the trauma triggered by the pandemic very soon. We have started seeing the blinking light at the end of the tunnel due to mass vaccination. We will be able to reach the end of the tunnel soon. Only then the students will be able to take a deep breath coming out from their homes and meeting with their friends. Let us have patience during the pandemic; we will be able to see good days very soon.
The write is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.