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Pandemic shutdown robbing 1.4 million students of college life in Bangladesh

  • Kazi Nafia Rahman, Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-09-03 03:31:59 BdST

Once the Secondary School Certificate or SSC exams are cleared, a college admission offers first taste of freedom of adulthood in Bangladesh, but the coronavirus shutdown has deprived around 1.4 million students of campus life.

Among them is Raya Adiba Ahmed, a student of Shaheed Bir Uttam Lt Anwar Girls' College. “I didn’t even get to know what college life is. How does it feel to go to college after school?”

Like Adiba, hundreds of thousands of students in Bangladesh enrolled into college, sitting at home with the educational institutions shut for a year and a half due to the pandemic.

The first year ended with remote learning.

To Jahangir Alam, a student at Patgram Model College in Lalmonirhat, it is inconceivable how he can assess his performance in education.

“I can’t tell which year I’m in. I think I’ve been promoted to second year (12th grade). But no examinations have been held.”

Nearly 1.7 million students passed the SSC and equivalent exams in 2020 after around 2.04 million took the tests held in person last year just before the shutdown, and nearly 1.4 million enrolled into the 11th grade.

The Higher Secondary Certificate or HSC exams, which the students sit after two years in college, could not be organised due to the pandemic last year. The students were evaluated on the basis of their SSC and Junior School Certificate exam results.  

The SSC and HSC exams of 2021 have not yet been held. The education ministry says if the pandemic ebbs, the SSC exams will be held in November and the HSC in December.

The ministry is supposed to take a decision on reopening the institutions on Sunday after consulting the government’s expert panel on COVID-19.

Syed Manzoorul Islam, a former English Department professor at Dhaka University, considers college as a great place to learn many things.

“College life made me aware of the duties and rights I have in higher education. It helped me lead. It added a new dimension to my life. And now they (class 12 students) are deprived of this pleasure because of the pandemic.”

A student of Shaheed Police Smrity College, Shahinur Sultana Shraboni, and Anas Bin Sazzad of BCIC College in Dhaka complained they cannot study much after attending online classes.

“The differences between in-person and online classes are huge. We can’t find the answer if we have a question,” said Anas. “We’ve lost the desire to study.”

Jahangir of Lalmonirhat said many students cannot join the classes due to a lack of devices or internet connection.

He also said the students do not keep physical distancing while submitting assignments for evaluation at the college. “This will spread infection. Then what’s the outcome of keeping the college shut?”

Tania Zebin, mother of Shaheed Anwar Girls’ College student Raya, was also frustrated about Raya’s study. “She would’ve studied had in-person classes been held. They don’t learn anything from the online classes. Even the practical classes are held online. Practical classes should be held in labs.”

The parent said the government should allow at least two to three days of in-person classes per week.

Fahmin Islam of Gulshan Commerce College in Dhaka said, “I’ve lost interest in study after missing in-person classes for a long time. Now it’s difficult for me to grasp a lesson. And I can’t write as quickly as I would because I don’t practice it.”

Prof Manzoorul says no matter what, the students must appreciate what they are getting amid the pandemic.

“The cultural gap can be closed in university, but the gap in studies cannot be filled up. So they must continue learning.

“And they need to understand the reality. I know two families who wed off their daughters in the pandemic. The students could have done something different in life if they had the opportunity to continue study.

“So, the students must prepare themselves keeping in mind the fate of others who had to drop out or been married off. There’s nothing to regret.”