Tanzina Tabassum Nova
While educational institutions are closed all around the country due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, they are trying to find alternative ways to continue their academic activities. The University Grants Commission has also instructed the universities to do so. On 23 March, in a letter to all public and private universities of Bangladesh, UGC urged all institutions to start online classes. In response, many universities have started taking classes online.
What are the students’ and teachers’ opinions about these online classes? Let’s have a look at what some of them had to say.
Samia*, a lecturer at a private university in Chittagong, says that they are conducting classes via the Zoom app. As neither she nor her students are used to having classes this way, it is uncomfortable for them. Many of the students have gone to their village homes when the universities closed. This makes accessing the internet difficult for them, so they cannot properly take part in the classes. Students are worried about having online exams, as well.
Nayeera* is conducting classes using the Zoom app, Google Classroom, and Facebook live. She is a lecturer at a private university in Dhaka. She feels good that her students are not being deprived of classes, even when everyone is stuck at home. The issue of the network problem arises again. Nayeera says that poor internet connection hinders her from interacting with her students properly. Besides, a teacher cannot always tell what the students are actually doing while attending online classes. Some of her students cannot even take part in these classes, as they are out in their village homes, with little to no internet facilities.
Apala* is a student at a private university in Chittagong. Their teachers upload video lectures to WhatsApp groups that are dedicated for this purpose. Students download those videos and save them in Google drive for future perusal. Apala thinks that these classes are actually good. As they have the videos downloaded, they can watch the lectures multiple times, if needed.
However, in case of any problems with the lectures, they are instructed to contact the teachers personally. Many students feel uncomfortable doing that, so the problems remain unsolved. Many of her classmates are currently staying in their village homes, says Apala. The internet connection is poor there, and they have to frequently recharge their account balance to buy data packs, which is costly. Besides, frequently going out to recharge in the current situation is not safe.
Islamic University of Technology has a stand quite different to other universities. The IUT authority has declared that there will be no obligatory online classes, as many students will not be able to attend the classes. Willing teachers can take classes, but they cannot evaluate the students based on these classes. They have to complete their classes once the university reopens.
An IUT student, who has taken part in such classes, says that these classes are not as fruitful as offline classes, because the teachers have limited interactions with the students. They are having classes using the Zoom app, where most of the students keep their audios and videos off. This leaves the teacher with no way of knowing what the students are really up to while attending the classes.
All these stories have something in common. Because of poor internet, many students are not able to attend classes. This hinders the teachers from conducting the classes properly, as well. This should have been considered before forcing online classes on them. Moreover, we are still on a general holiday. Therefore, due to low family income, many students are facing financial crises. They are also worried that they might have to pay their semester fees soon.
We are fighting against a global pandemic. The number of Covid-19 positive patients and the death toll are rising every moment. Everyone is stressed in this situation. Are young learners capable of handling the stress of regular classes and possible exams, as well as the stress of battling an invisible enemy? Maybe we keep forgetting that this is an emergency, not a vacation.
The students, as well as the teachers, are also in isolation, like most others. After all, they are also emotional human beings. Just because they are staying at home does not mean we can force them to have classes. They should not have to find themselves with the responsibility of staying productive thrust upon them, especially while a global pandemic is ongoing. They need not have to go through all this.
Education is undoubtedly important. However, the question remains, is it more important than the mental health of our students and teachers? I think it is time we paused to think about that.
*Names have been changed due to privacy concerns
Tanzina Tabassum Nova is a full-time couch-potato, and a part-time reader, writer, translator, and reciter.