Thursday, 21 October, 2021

Revitalise Education Keeping Online-Offline Option

Pranab Kumar Panday

The COVID-19 pandemic has paralysed the education sector in all countries of the world affecting the economy, health, transport and other sectors. Despite a widespread discussion of the effects of the pandemic on economy and health, the catastrophic impact of the lethal virus on education has yet to draw the attention of the world community to a large extent. Most developed nations have succeeded in overcoming the disastrous impact of this virus through the online transformation of their traditional education system. Furthermore, in the developed countries, the ratio of vaccine coverage among students is higher. Therefore, the suffering of students of developing countries like Bangladesh is much more acute than that of developed countries.

Since 17 March 2020, Bangladesh's educational institutions have been shut. In view of the improving situation of COVID-19, numerous times, the government has sought to open educational institutions. But sudden unexpected worsening of the pandemic caused them to retract. Most students of government schools, colleges and public universities have thus been worried about their academic life. There is a fear that the devastating effects of the fatal virus would affect a generation negatively because children at elementary and secondary levels have long been away from the learning environment.

Although the country has digitised the service delivery system effectively in most cases, we still strive to turn the conventional classroom-based teaching-learning environment into an online system. The reason is that most students from poor and middle-class households in rural regions have no access to devices or the capacity to spend on the internet and electricity. Even those with device access occasionally experience problems of internet connectivity and continuous supply of electricity. Consequently, in the previous one and half years, the school dropout rate has grown significantly. Even there has been an alarming increase in the ratio child marriage of girls in rural areas.

Despite several attempts by the government, we are still struggling to prepare the teaching communities at the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels to continue teaching-learning activities online. Finding no other alternative, the ministry of education started providing assignments to the students to keep them busy with academic activities. Even then, we are facing some problems as writing assignments is new to the students.

While having an intellectual discussion with one of the faculty of a government college, I was given the impression that most of their students are submitting assignments copying from different internet sources. A very few of them are working hard to develop their assignments. The students are not solely responsible for this, as many of the faculties do not clearly understand the art of writing assignments. Therefore, the practice of adopting unfair means while writing assignments at this age would not help them in the long run. Consequently, it is necessary to provide orientation to the teachers who would orient their students.

Meanwhile, if the COVID-19 situation continues in such a manner, the government has planned to vaccinate students above 18 years of age with a view to open educational institutions. Meanwhile, around 80,000 students have received their first dose of the vaccine. In the upcoming two weeks, they will receive their second dose. In addition to extending the vaccination coverage among the students, the ministry and University Grants Commission (UGC) have been working hard to develop guidelines for online education. We have already learnt that the UGC has circulated a guideline on online education.

In order to implement online examinations, the various universities strive to customise the guidelines for online examinations as they are required to implement legal reforms. As of now, the authority has practically no choice but to conduct online exams. The online examinations should have started earlier as many public universities have completed their online classes long ago. The majority of these students have been waiting for their examinations since last year. These students have been passing the time in anxiety over their academic future.

Based on the experience of COVID-19 pandemic for the last one and half year, it can be stated that none can predict when we will be able to resume normal life, and thus we must cope with a post-COVID new normal lifestyle. Though several companies have invented vaccines, none of them could claim 100 per cent security against the lethal virus. There is evidence of many being infected even after two doses of the vaccine. Even the emergence of different variants of the deadly virus, has aggravated the COVID situation after a certain interval.

As we have been passing through the third wave of the pandemic, many countries of the West have been passing through the fourth wave. We are not sure when we will face the fourth wave of the pandemic. However, it is for sure that until and unless we attain herd immunity through vaccination of the majority of our population, we have to face the catastrophe of the deadly virus after a certain interval as Corona is famous for mutation.

Under these circumstances, the education sector's responsible authority must consider developing a guideline keeping the option for both online and classroom teaching and examination. If we could manage to open the universities on October 15 and face another wave, we must close the educational institutions again. Therefore, to meet the challenges triggered by the pandemic in the education sector and save the students' academic life, there is no alternative than to proceed through the combination of the physical and online systems.

It goes without saying that we would welcome the reopening of the educational institutes to commence the physical teaching-learning process. It is most important as most students of public universities and government schools and colleges have been suffering from psychological trauma staying at home for a long time. Reopening of these institutions would boost them mentally, and take their academic life ahead. At the same time, as our Prime Minister hinted many times, we must agree that we cannot put our children at risk of this lethal virus.

Therefore, a blend between online and offline education must be thought of practically. In private universities and English medium schools, we have seen that they are taking their students' academic life ahead very smoothly. On the other hand, a generation of students attending primary and secondary levels is on the verge of having their academic life destroyed. For instance, students attending grade VI in early 2020 would be promoted to Grade VIII in 2022. These students would learn a little from the curriculum of Grade VI. Therefore, they would find it difficult to get adjusted to the curriculum of grade VIII. The same is the case with the students of primary schools. Consequently, we must consider revising our education system to ensure a blend between online and offline teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond the pandemic. If we can transform our system, we will be able to save our students even if another pandemic like the COVID-19 comes in the future.


The writer is a Professor of Public

Administration at the University of Rajshahi