Thursday, 21 October, 2021

Considerations before and after Reopening of Universities

Al Jamal Mustafa Shindaini and Raiyan Rahman

Educational institutions throughout Bangladesh are to reopen if the Covid-19 infection rates decline. The closure of educational institutions has been extended numerous times, fearing the spread of infection. Such uninterrupted closures were not applied in offices, industries, cafés, shopping malls and other public spaces. Offline admission tests of universities compelled students and their guardians to be in mass gatherings - a playground of corona virus. Admission tests, along with other causes of exposure, have already resulted in heaps of infected students and even their deaths.

It was affirmed by an education ministry official that 30,000 out of 34,000 public university faculties who registered for Covid-19 vaccine would be jabbed by the first week of August. In addition to the faculties, all other personnel of the universities (both public and private) are to be vaccinated. The university students face difficulty in registration due to age bars. Apart from that, people are getting infected despite vaccination.

According the statement of education ministry, educational institutions are to remain closed till 11th September. Contrarily, the government has declared reopening of the universities country from 15th October. The anxieties of the students are not only limited to the exact date of reopening but an entire array of predicaments.  This is because offline classes will require the redistribution of their resources and reorganisation of their spaces. For example, the money allocated for the data packages for online classes is to be adjusted for transport fare for commuting to class. The jobs or other works such as household chores or courses taken up due to the nature of classes are to be left. The set-ups dedicated to online classes are to be remodelled so that room for offline classes is made.

Some students perform their online classes from their residences, which are very far from their educational institutions. They would need to relocate. Finding accommodation on short notice is strenuous. And, relocating comes with its own set of challenges, like being acquainted, identifying where to reach out for services like cooking, laundry, printing, and so on. The situation is further complicated due to the type of restrictions posed due to Covid-19.

Public transportation prices have hiked and safety measures are ignored outdoors. Shuttling to and from class is made arduous. It is to be accounted that not all universities provide transportation to their students. And those that facilitate may not be up to the mark or be in compliance with the basic requirements of the students.

Most educational institutions also do not have lodging services. The hostels of public universities are ill-equipped and over populated. Those are infested with cobwebs and vermin. Chaos and injustice pervades. The filthy hostels are often ruled by political thugs. Such a living condition is not ideal, especially during the spread of coronavirus.

Unprecedented changes in the date of reopening wreak havoc on the lives of students and their families. It takes a heavy toll upon their wealth and well-being. Both mental and physical health is affected. Ample contemplations are to be made for them to overcome the shocks of continuous setbacks. It cannot be overlooked that a bulk of students were deprived of a physical orientation at the beginning of their academic years. Some never had the opportunity to be entwined with their campuses. It is likely to take longer for them to be well versed in the ways of regular classes.

It is about time the educational institutions are reopened. Incidents where teachers took classes outdoors and the students heartily participated have also surfaced. When regular classes are brought into action, safe distance is to be maintained. Classrooms typically require students to be jam-packed. Classes may be taken alternately based on batches and sections. Number of classes per week should be lessened at the initial phases of reopening.

Masks are mandatory. Shields and gloves are to be introduced, if necessary. But the adverse health effects of wearing protective gear for prolonged periods cannot be revoked. It is distinctly deleterious to the ones with asthma and other medical conditions. Hence, provision must be made where one may safely shed protective gears. Institutions should provide sanitizers, disinfectants, handwash and other hygiene products. Cleanliness of the washrooms is to enhanced and never be low on supplies. Temperature of teachers, students and staff members is to be noted on arrival and departure. Outsiders are to be restricted to avoid congregating. Canteens should not be crowded and uncontaminated food is to be ensured. Special measures are needed in parking lots, libraries, prayer rooms and laboratories. Laboratories tend to sensitive components which may be reactive to Covid-19 essentials like alcohol based products and sterilisers. Precautions are to be taken accordingly. Prohibitions on smoking are to be made harsher.

Clustering is to be avoided at entry and exit points, staircases, lifts and escalators. It is better to move at a slower pace than risking infection. Teachers should cooperate with the students when they are delayed due to safety protocols. Assemblies for message dispersion should be replaced with announcements and notices when possible. Universities entail students to perform researches or internship. Modifications are to be brought in certain patterns of researches and internships to augment safety and feasibility. The submissions made to the university such as projects, assignments, posters etc. should be disinfected. Safety measures should not be limited to the campuses, but cover the entire infrastructure of universities including systems of transportation, accommodation and banking.

The medical centres of universities are to be fortified and must be accessible at all times. Universities are to be well connected with nearby hospitals and should extend assistance when someone falls sick. For this, database of students, teachers, staff and administrative members are to be made. Aids and monetary backup for students is essential.

Nevertheless, copious questions are left unanswered including would the teachers, students and staff be trained for reopening of universities. If so, what would be the parameters of training? What measures will be taken if a single student is Covid-positive has never been conferred. It is imprecise how the universities plan to carry on activities like seminars, job fairs, workshops, courses, festivals, study tours, and tournaments. Even, it is obscure if any group works will take place and how it would be performed in such dicey conditions. Session jams and loss of academic years has long irked university students, yet remains uncharted in times of the epidemic. Mental health of the students and integration of mental health infrastructure still remains untapped.

Hybrid learning has been in discussion. It is an attempt to incorporate online and offline learning. It will oblige the students to both distant learning and physical classes. Hybrid learning should not be finalised until it is proven to be viable and advantageous. Substantial number of students is still adjusting to the changing modes of classes.  


Respectively the writers are Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and a

graduate in Development Studies, Bangladesh University of Professionals, Dhaka