After the closure of university due to the coronavirus outbreak, Md Israfil, a student of the philosophy department at Dhaka University (DU), started online classes with great enthusiasm.
However, he stopped attending after a while as the class seemed unappealing. There was no obligation to attend online classes either and that added to his indifference.
Israfil said, without any exams for the previous semester, a fresh semester has begun in full swing. They know nothing about how the last semester will be evaluated. Not only Israfil, but 50 other students of DU echoed the same experience, when talking to Prothom Alo.
They said many students of public universities come from poor families and can’t afford internet packages and necessary devices for online studies. Sluggish internet speed is also a deterrent to virtual classes.
In November last year, a survey was conducted by Prothom Alo on 50 DU students who studied in 10 different faculties . The survey was run through Facebook and cell phone calls. Around 67 per cent of the respondents said online class had not been fruitful.
The DU authorities announced the closure of the university and its dormitories sine die on March 18. Then online classes began on 7 July last year to evade the session jam. DU has 84 departments, 12 institutes and13 faculties.
Students participating in the survey said class attendance is reducing gradually though it was high in the beginning. A student of the Arabic department said a total of 146 students used to appear in class in the beginning but later the number stood at 20. Another student of the World Religion and Culture (WRC) department said though the class began with 40 students, now only 15 to 20 students are regular.
A second year student of the mathematics department said some 120 students used to take part in the beginning. Later it came down to 80. A postgraduate student of the mass communication and journalism department said that only 15 students are attending classes from 25 students participating in the beginning.
A student of the economics department said some 50 students are appearing the virtual class regularly in lieu of the total 210 students who attended earlier.
“Earlier we had 115 students in the virtual class. But now there are 90,” said a student of the accounting and information system department under the business faculty.
The survey said the sluggish speed of internet, unappealing lectures, internet costs and no obligation to attend classes are held responsible for the fall in students’ attendance.
Prof. Md. Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, chairperson of the Islamic history and culture department said nearly 60 to 70 per cent of the students in his department used to take part in the class earlier. But day by day that enthusiasm is waning.
The Digital Security Act is a problem for both the teachers and students. Students are afraid to ask questions while teachers are also apprehensive to discuss many issues.
Namita Mandal, chairperson of the Sanskrit department, said her department had 85 per cent attendance at the beginning. Gradually it came down to 40 to 42 per cent.
Professor of international relations Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan told Prothom Alo, “We can have interactions during classes in the actual classroom. That is impossible in long-distance classes. For that reason, students are not enjoying the class. That is why the rate of attendance is decreasing gradually.”
Prof ASM Maksud Kamal, pro vice-chancellor (education) of DU said after the opening of university, the examinations of two semesters may be taken in a shorter span.
8,556 students lack digital devices for online class
At the beginning of last year November, the University Grant Commission (UGC) decided to provide loans to insolvent students to purchase mobile devices. Later, according to UGC’s directives, the DU authorities submitted a list of 8,556 students for loans. UGC said they have finalised the decision to provide Tk 8000 to each student as a loan.
Saddam Hussein, a fourth-year student of mass communication and journalism at DU has applied for this loan. He said, “I am interested in this loan. However, this money will be a burden for us in the future. It would be better if the government gives this money to us as a grant.”
Fear of session jam
As the university has been closed since the end of March, the students are in fear of falling a session jam. Dhaka University authorities say students may fall into a six to seven-month session jam if this situation prevails. However, they are thinking about how to lessen the semester gap.
Abdul Karim, a student of the drawing and painting department of DU, is stuck in the last year of graduation. He told the Prothom Alo that “If I were graduated, I could apply for the jobs and plan my career. The financial condition of my family is not good.”
Pro VC ASM Maksud Kamal told the Prothom Alo that “In order to prevent the session jam in the first, second and third years, we have already chalked out some plans including additional classes, reduction of semester length, and the reduction of holidays.”
“But we will not compromise with quality to thwart the student from lagging behind in global competition,” he added.
Teachers should take up various methods to make the online classes enjoyable. It is their individual responsibility
Fear of Digital Security Act in online classes
Before the coronavirus outbreak, many DU teachers were not interested in taking classes online. Besides, they have to face all sorts of difficulties to connect with students online. And a section of teachers said they are worrying about the Digital Security Act.
Professor of international relations Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan said, “The Digital Security Act is a problem for both the teachers and students. Students are afraid to ask questions while teachers are also apprehensive to discuss many issues.”
He said that is why he did not record any of his classes.
Professor of anthropology at DU, Zubaida Nasreen, has echoed the same concern. She told Prothom Alo that many teachers are afraid to take classes online. At least 25 teachers are worried about online classes owing to absence of freedom of expression.
“If we record our lectures, later it might go viral on Facebook. That would pitch us into danger. That’s why many teachers of the social science faculty don’t record their virtual classes,” she added.
Indifference towards online class
Chairperson of the Arabic department Abdul Qadir said, “Students are less interested in taking online classes as they are not required to attend. The university didn’t take any initiative to increase attendance.”
Farzin Huda, chairperson of the department of World Religions and Culture, has held less interaction and said internet costs are responsible for reducing students in the class.
She said, “Day by day, students are losing their enthusiasm. Despite the best efforts of teachers, online classes are not being effective. But this initiative has to be continued to evade session jam.”
UGC member Professor Mohammad Alamgir told Prothom Alo that “We cannot do anything about the problem of internet speed for online classes. This can be fixed by the mobile operators through BTRC-BTCL. UGC has already held a meeting with three mobile operators to provide SIM cards and internet packages to students at low cost.”
Prof Alamgir added that students do not enjoy the online classes of the teachers whose classes they enjoy offline. There are various methods to make the class interesting. Teachers have to have experience about technology. There are limitations in this case. Here teachers should take personal responsibility and commitments.
“Teachers should take up various methods to make the online classes enjoyable. It is their individual responsibility,” Prof Alamgir added.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by NH Sajjad