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The students expressed their views and raised several questions before the DG of the Secondary and Higher Education Directorate made his presentation.

Pratibha Prova, a 10th grader of Holy Cross School and College in the capital city, said that online classes were being held during the coronavirus pandemic, but not all were being able to benefit from this properly. There were all sorts of problems, including internet data and more. And not being able to go to school created problems in socialisation too. That was why it was necessary to reopen schools. However, it must be ensured that everyone wore masks, maintained a three-foot distance, washed hands and followed the other health guidelines. If all this were followed, it would be possible to open schools again.

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The present circumstances were creating a gap in studies, said Kathak Biswas, an 11th grader of Barishal’s Hatem Ali College.

Class 12 student of Chattogram Government Women’s College, Mina Akhter, said it would be good to be able to attend classes directly. But will things continue like this if it was not possible to go directly to the institutions because of coronavirus? In that case, she said, it should be ensured that everyone had equal and safe IT access.

Sanjida, Class 11 student of Khulna Government Women’s College, said due to the long closure, all sorts of garbage and dirt has piled up in the schools. School grounds were even being use to graze the cows

Sheikh Sadi, student of Class 9 at Dhamrai High School, said they were not being able to learn properly through online classes. Internet facilities had to be improved.

Sanjida, Class 11 student of Khulna Government Women’s College, said due to the long closure, all sorts of garbage and dirt has piled up in the schools. School grounds were even being use to graze the cows. These needed to be cleaned and the government should bear these expenses.

Class 12 student of Bir Shrestha Nur Mohammad Public College, Rafsan Jani, said when the educational institutions reopened, the students shouldn’t be forced to follow the entire syllabus. It should be made concise.

Kazi Abdul Halim, student of Class 12 at Sylhet’s Jalalabad Public School and College, pointed to the discrepancy in internet between the cities and the villages, and said that most of the students in Sylhet’s collages come from the villages. They cannot stay at the hostels or messes now, but they do not have uninterrupted internet in the villages where they are staying. And many of their parents are facing problems in earning a living. It is difficult for them to pay for internet data.

A 2021 HSC candidate, Abdul Halim, went on to say that he did not want ‘auto-pass’, but said that the exams should be postponed and the syllabus shortened.

Schools should be opened with all precautionary measures for those who need it more in the rural areas, said Class 10 student Chowdhury Razia Sultana of Thutia High School in Shahzadpur, Sirajganj.

Emdadul Huq of Class 11 at Rajshahi’s New Degree College, said after passing the SSC exam and getting admitted to HSC, he hasn’t been able to go to college. Though studying in Rajshahi, his home was in the village which had internet connection problems. He said there would be discrepancies in assessment on exams based on online classes. There would be discrimination between rural and urban students. This should be taken into consideration when decisions were made.

‘Shortfalls can be covered’

Following the deliberations of the students, director general of the Secondary and Higher Education Directorate, Syed Golam Faruk, said that the reopening of educational institutions depended on the COVID-19 situation and many other factors. However, plans had to be made from now as to how the institutions would be reopened. A plan had been drawn up about maintaining health guidelines and other matters. Once schools reopened, an effort would be made to follow all this.

Due to coronavirus, around 50 million students worldwide were out of education coverage. In Bangladesh too, a large number of students were out of school. Many children were being forced in child marriage, child labour and were dropping out
Reefat Bin Sattar, country director (programme development and quality), Save the Children

The DG, Secondary and Higher Education Directorate, hoped that the drop-out rate would not be as high as apprehended. He said they had collected information on assignments submitted by students in 115 upazilas of 46 districts. It was noted that 85 per cent of the students had submitted their assignments. It was hoped that at least 85 per cent of the students would not drop out. On the contrary, more would be added to this number.

He further said that a national assessment was being made based on the sample of assignments submitted from all over the country at a secondary level. Necessary measures for the coming year would be made based on this.

In reply to questions from the students, Syed Golam Faruk said they were definitely taking into consideration the matter of internet facilities and other factors. Measures were being taken to meet the gap created for the students who did not have online or TV facilities.

He agreed that online classes were not an alternative to direct classes. This had not been a practice from beforehand. At the same time, the COVID-19 situation was still uncertain. So mental preparation must be taken to continue studies even if there were no direct classes.

The secondary and higher education DG assured the students that the SSC and HSC exams wouldn’t suddenly be thrust upon them. The exams would be taken once the students started coming to school and college. Perhaps there would be lesser classes than normal. He also said that there would be changes in assessment too.

Referring to the 1971 Liberation War, the DG said he believed just as in 1971, the students would now also be able to overcome all the shortfalls.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum made the opening presentation at the event.

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Reefat Bin Sattar, Director - Program Development and Quality, Save the Children in Bangladesh, said that COVID-19 is not just a public health crisis, it was an education crisis too. Due to the coronavirus, around 50 million students worldwide were out of education coverage. In Bangladesh too, a large number of students were out of school. Many children were being forced in child marriage, child labour and were dropping out.

Everyone should be prepared for when school reopens. Students should be able to return to school safely.

The virtual dialogue was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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