All educational institutions have seen closure due to Covid-19 for about fifteen months. In the primary and secondary level, the government has tried to introduce academic activities through Sangsad TV and radio even though there are questions regarding its effectiveness. 49 public universities and 2600 colleges under National University where about 44 lac students study, have not resorted to any plan in mitigating the learning loss of the students. Private universities are competent in this regard who immediately shifted to online classes/examinations after the lockdown in March 2020, until UGC cancelled the effort later. They would have graduated earlier than public university pupils if online examinations were still in progress. Most public university teachers hardly have any accountability to the authorities and students which is not the case in private universities. UGC’s decision to stop online examinations for private institutions does not retain any merit. The decision to minimize public university students learning loss holding deserves praise although the decision should have been made earlier. It is too late now!
Though late, UGC’s formation of committees to find out ways of restoring normalcy in education calls for appreciation. On 6th May UGC held a meeting with the VCs where they announced semester examinations to be conducted online. The academic council of the universities concerned will take final decision regarding this matter, later to be sent to the ministry of education for releasing it as office order. The uncertain journey of corona has impelled the UGC to allow the public universities to conduct the cancelled exams online. However, if any university is unwilling, they have the freedom to hold those exams after the situation is back to normal. This is, of course, the honour of UGC towards university autonomy. As students have already become averse to study and face mental agony, they should be encouraged to prepare to go back to regular studies.Universities will have to hold online examinations adopting the methods and guidelines of six points of UGC, keeping pace with practical situations such as uninterrupted electricity, internet connection and its speed, digital device tools, setting questions, foiling unfair means and global acceptability of the results. According to the proposal following four methods, any theoretical subject can be graded by taking tests online. Examples are creative works, quizzes/MCQ of different sets of questions and viva-voce. The proposal also states that videos of different experiments of practical classes to be uploaded on departmental websites and to be emailed to students. Students will then analyze the data to form a short report for the teachers. Thesis/ project work which is not based on laboratory work can be supervised online. After receiving the thesis/project hardcopy, viva-voce can be taken online. The Ministry of Education and ICT Ministry can jointly ensure the access to internet and its satisfactory speed in remotest parts of the country.
I want to share a real incident about online examinations at a public university. Two bright students of Barishal University almost completed their graduation but they were left with two exams when the pandemic hit the country. They received a scholarship for Master’s in a prestigious university in France under the condition that they had to complete their undergraduate degree first. Which meant in case of failure, their scholarship would get cancelled. The students approached the chairman of the department, dean and the Vice Chancellor but they all expressed their inability to help them. It's noteworthy to mention that it was for the first-time someone from Barishal University managed a scholarship under a European university. The students requested a special examination under university autonomy but the officials were not convinced. Finding no other way, the two pupils met the Education Secretary who also expressed his inability to help. Ultimately, the Education Minister listened to them patiently, and assured them help regarding them as the asset of the nation. All arrangements for online exams were done after the minister contacted the VC. I salute the education minister for taking fruitful steps for these two pupils.
On the other hand, public university students have expressed their reaction to the decision of online examinations. They gathered together on a Facebook group titled “Open Universities Immediately” and stated their rejection of the decision by UGC. They declared that public universities cannot afford to hold online exams and it is an impractical decision given the weak internet connection all over the country. Not only that, the teachers of public universities are not expert enough to do the job. Students don’t have online devices and some of them cannot afford it. In their opinion, it seems illogical to have examinations online and they will continue to protest. They conveyed if universities are not opened in May, they will go to the university fields to press home their demands.
However, Dhaka University has decided to conduct online examinations conforming to the decision of UGC, which might be a good example for other universities. It is greatly felt that the whole arrangement must be up to a global standard otherwise the graduates produced through this journey may have to face hurdles in future. On 5th May, the dean committee decided that if the covid situation doesn’t improve, Dhaka University will conduct online examinations from the 1st of July 2021. The VC has already asked the deans of different faculties and the directors of institutes to develop a strategic paper on how to conduct the whole affair. Public university teachers, either through training or of their own accord, must acquire the skills of using online devices otherwise they will have to face challenges to keep pace with the education of the current world.
The writer works for BRAC Education