All classroom activities of the educational institutions of Bangladesh remain suspended for nearly one and a half years following the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, Unicef confirmed it to be the second-longest pandemic-related school closure in the world. One effect of this naturally is a growing distance between students and studying.
The institutions have been closed for in-person study since March 18, 2020. The closure has been extended numerous times, and the latest extension announced on Thursday by the Education Ministry takes it till September 11 - meaning there is no possibility of the classes resuming in-person before that date.
Many universities are running their classes online. However, some of the departments of public universities have not started online classes yet.
Private universities are completing semesters by taking exams online. Thus, the students of those universities are being deprived of practical learnings.
Last week marked a groundswell of opinion in favour of reopening, with symbolic protests taking place across some institutions around the country, before the authorities backtracked once again.
One of these symbolic acts was at Rajshahi University, where a group of teachers declared they would start taking classes under a tree on campus if the classrooms are not opened. They then went ahead and started taking classes last Monday.
RU Mass Communication and Journalism department associate professor Abdullah Al Mamun declared in a Facebook post that teachers were ready to take this seemingly quixotic step and a few teachers including Anthropology department associate professor Bokhtiar Ahmed and Folklore department assistant professor Md Amirul Islam expressed solidarity with him.
Talking about the long closure of the institutions, Abdullah Al Mamun said the government is opening the economy and garments industries to improve the country’s economy, but on the other hand, they are producing the unskilled population by closing the educational institutions. This will affect the country’s future, he said.
"Developed countries may have the technological opportunities but we have many obstacles for running online classes," he added.
RU Anthropology department associate professor Bokhtiar Ahmed said, "This is a terrible thing that the educational institutions are closed for a long time. This costs a lot and causes economic, social and educational losses for this country. They could take online exams one year ago but they are taking the decision to take exams online now."
He too pointed out that students from rural areas can’t join online classes due to network and device shortages. Online classes are thus not at all fruitful, he said. There are many differences between distance learning and face-to-face learning.
Md Amirul Islam said such long-term closures cause "negative impacts" on students.
"Few students saw doctors to cure their mental illness as they were suffering from depression during the long closure. Some of them committed suicide. Therefore, we want to come back to the classroom as early as possible," Amirul Islam said.
The teachers say there are many ways to protest against any decision of policymakers, and they chose to take symbolic classes so that their students can also come and collaborate with them, as that would help their message reach the policymakers.