Though a number of private universities have been taking classes online for quite some time now, public universities have begun online classes only recently. We are all more or less aware of the realities of public universities. Many students do not have smartphones, some do not have enough money to buy data packages, many areas have frequent power cuts, sometimes the mobile networks are also not too good.
Many of us have started online classes in the face of all these challenges and are working on how to resolve the problems to some extent. Students have been going to open spaces away from home, to market places, some even to their roofs and even climbing trees simply to join online classes. Some are saying if the universities were closed because of the fear of coronavirus infection, the students still could be infected because they are being forced to go to market places to join classes online.
Even those able to join the classes are facing many problems. Both teachers and students are coming online , going off-line because of fluctuating networks. Some parts of the lecture are heard, some just vanish into thin air.
Let’s assume that the main target of online classes is to keep the students’ morale up and help them keep in touch with studies. But we must remember that if we can’t bring all the students online and just continue online classes with those who can afford to join, this will make the existing inequalities starker. This will frustrate the not so well-to-do students. They will lag behind if this continues.
If the Digital Security Act hangs ominously above the practice of knowledge, the very concept of university education will change
There has been no visible initiatives by the public universities to ensure free data for the students, though much had been written about this. The universities did not come up with any solution, but the students have contacted their respective course teachers on their own with various suggestions. Those who are not being able to attend classes online have requested the teachers to make a video of the class and upload this on the server so that they can watch and listen later.
These are the problems the students have been facing. But many teachers, especially the teachers of social science, have been talking about another fear in various discussions and online meetings. They are worried about whether they would be able to give lectures freely because of the indiscriminate use of the Digital Security Act. Some teachers said that cases could be filed after a class lecture went viral on Facebook and all sorts of politics would be hatched.
Now the question is, were the teachers not fearful of this law when they used to take classes in classrooms? Of course it was there, but at that time no video records of their lectures were available.
The reason of this heightened fear is that two public university teachers have already been arrested under this Digital Security Act. One of them was suspended. Another university has used this law against the students. That is why the basic question that online classes have brought forth is: how much freedom will there be for the teachers to express their opinions and create students capable to use their deductive powers of logic?
The question is, why are the social science teachers more apprehensive about this? It’s because, social science deals with society, state and institutions. It encourages difference of opinions, plurality, discussion and criticism. It discusses all types of relationships of persons, state and society, religion, politics, culture, sexuality, institutions, their clashes and that is how it is supposed to be. Opinions of some people may not be the same as others. There could be clashes with various dominant ideologies of the state. The greatest beauty of the disciplines under social science are the logical differences of opinion.
That is why the idea and the history of university is different. Teaching is not like other professions. This is a responsibility. A teacher’s responsibility is not limited to taking classes or checking exam scripts only. The teacher-student relationship is involved with everything including developing their analysing powers, making them research-oriented and skilled in research, aware of their rights and problems. This relationship is reflected in teaching as well.
In that teaching process, if the two sides remain in fear and are uneasy, it affects the quality of teaching. If the Digital Security Act hangs ominously above the practice of knowledge, the very concept of university education will change. That is why when the teachers are fearful of the Digital Security Act in taking online classes, we feel we are stuck somewhere.
Our mental world is not free. We fear being sued, we fear disrespect, threats and losing our jobs. What is the use of a university education, if we can’t speak fearlessly in front of students or the students are too fearful to question freely? That is why the state should free everyone of fear by repealing the Digital Security Act.
* Zobaida Nasreen is a teacher of the anthropology department at Dhaka University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
* This piece has rewritten in English by Shameem Reza