Are University Students Ready for Online Education?

Munem Shahriar Islam Shamonto

In light of the recent announcements made by UGC (University Grants Commission); honorable Education Minister Dipu Moni has urged all universities to continue academic activities online, including exams and admissions, in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, which however raised mixed reactions over the student community about its functionality and resulted in a vague situation over which measures should be taken as well as would be appropriate given the contemporary circumstances. 

Public opinions followed by the provided six decisions over the initiative of online classes would somewhat portray the feasibility of the system which will require further improvements along with trials and spent time. 

All universities, including NU, must take initiatives to ensure and provide all facilities required for online education so that students remain busy with academic activities.

There would be two different outcomes for two different scenarios; If the students (majority) of a specific university own the required devices and services beforehand, it’ll require less push and resource for the administration to ensure the necessary facilities for smooth participation. However, the percentage of possessing such facilities may vary in public and private varsities based on different factors. In public universities, the percentage stays between 30-40% whereas for private universities the number of having such facilities of the students is around 50-70% based on public opinion; which indicates a higher possibility of conducting successful online classes in private varsities with lesser effort than public ones. In general, 83% of the students own a laptop/desktop computer and 41% of them have access to min 2-3 Mbps of internet access (17% might get access to the facility if they’re willing to; which includes mobile data usage and the recharge expenses also go under the required administrative support). 

The requirements would also vary from peer to peer and where the individual is currently locating. In most cases, a smartphone or laptop with a stable internet connection or 3G network coverage would be enough which can operate a convenient video-conferencing application that will have good audio and visual quality like discord/google meet instead of zoom (only if security concerns be an issue). Expenses of mobile data usage might also be an issue; in that case, the telecom operators may enhance their internet services alongside lowering the expenses (which is a variable for its dependency over the companies which need to also fulfill their interest over such action). Access to quality networks for the ones living in rural areas where the electrical disturbance is evident would require the most attention; As the majority of the students went to their hometown as soon as their varsities got closed. Though some share an opinion of not doing online classes by any means and not proceeding towards any solution except attending classes physically. 

Although the requirements aren’t bound with the students only; The teachers may be needing some necessary things like drawing pad, technical Knowledge, well-prepared lecture slides which compensate for the aspects of physical classes, competency of the professors to successfully conduct an online class. To sum up the students’ view, only 20% believe that their university administration can provide all the above requirements needed which is less than expected. 

Private universities can conduct exams and admissions online and complete the semester. 

Only with the requirements fulfilled beforehand for online classes; the private varsities might proceed towards a far more complex approach: taking exams and admission online, which is almost next to impossible given the current circumstances. As the course functionality won’t be the same through online classes, there might be an option for semester drop with no accountability; in that case, 44% of the students tend to drop a semester than to participate in ineffective course completion and 23% are willing to go on with the trial by any means; the rest tends to stay positive about the idea. 

Students who fail to participate in classes online and thus fail to attempt the final exam this semester can do so in the next one. The university authorities must provide all support necessary to help such students to complete their academic life.

An evident fact is that many might still not be able to attend the classes (even with the requirements fulfilled) and fall behind; in that case, there should be an option for taking those courses later when things will get better, and students failing to attend can’t be pressurized or put a price onto. Even if the administration manages to provide the facilities and services in exchange of a fee, 35% of students aren’t willing to continue their courses and 27% of them totally rely on their parents’ decision whether they’re willing to proceed or not given the current economic condition of the country. However, 38% are still optimistic to go on with the approach. 

Online classes will never be an alternative to regular methods but during this pandemic where the situation won’t get better any soon and everything is at a halt, the question is, it worth taking the alternative measure? Even though it might be a little faulty? In response, a majority of 70% of students tend to wait till things get better and 55% of students are already taking online classes (majority from private universities) 

Public universities should take decisions according to their academic council rules and regulations so that effective steps are taken to reduce session jams.

Session jams had always been an integral part of public universities because of its flexible characteristics towards its students and also political unrest; but for such an unexpected event like this pandemic, is also putting pressure over the public universities to take measurements for the better using less practiced methods of studies such as online classes. Though trial classes are being conducted in several public universities, imposing such an unprecedented method is yet to come. 

Private universities can continue enrolling students via online admission tests for the upcoming academic session. However, the UGC will provide a certain timeframe for admission and class routine for the new semester.

Taking admission tests online is doable but the question is whether it’ll be a fair move or not. Already with the extant drawbacks for the admission process along with the new combined admission system put into effect; taking admission tests online would be an inappropriate act, let alone the proper evaluation process. Also creating a level playing field for everyone participating would be very difficult. 59% of students agree that even though taking online admission tests online is possible, it’ll never be a fair move and 39% of students take the process to be an impossible one. It’s better to say the least that, taking admission tests online would be an inappropriate move that’ll put an overall bad impression on the institution in the coming days. 

Lastly, university authorities cannot create pressure or cancel studentship if students fail to pay tuition fees, especially if they are unable to pay. Rather, they must take steps and come to their aid by waiving fees.

When there’s already an extant confusion about whether to take online classes if an option for dropping semester is available (which will be according to the taken UGC decisions) many a student would likely be skipping their courses either for lack of facilities or personal preference and would skip paying their fees. In some cases, many may choose to go on with the classes but won’t be financially stable to pay the expenses for which waivers are necessary. Though some universities are resourceful enough to provide study expenses, their policies and interests of providing waivers would play a big role here. On the contrary, some universities are newly established and have fewer resources. In that case, even with the mentality of providing aids to the students, the decision won’t come to much help. 44% of students think their varsity administration is resourceful enough but don’t know yet whether they’re willing to provide aids and only 11% of students are acknowledged about their university being well of with resources and already having the facilities.

Then again, the parents’ mentality towards such a process also determines a lot as they’re the ones who pay for the expenses and given the circumstances of economical degradation, every single family is affected one way or another. However, 24% of parents are positive about the online method and also willing to pay for it where 30% are somewhat positive about the idea but not willing to pay right now if there’s an option to skip the expenses. In contrast, 13% of parents aren’t positive enough about the idea but still want to pay for their child’s expenses but the rest 33% are negative about the idea as well as unwilling to pay. 

When asked about “the possibility of creating pressure or canceling studentship if someone fails to pay tuition fees, especially if they’re unable to pay” by the administration; there’s an equal of 27% students who feel like their administration might pressurize and mightn’t pressurize, where the rest 46% of students are ignorant about such an issue. 

However, Dipu Moni also directed that the participation of all students online be ensured with the full support of the ministry and UGC.

Even with the full support from the Education Ministry, 83% of students think that ensuring the participation of students in online classes can’t be possible and they have their experiences of interruption to back the theory.  

Students from the Islamic University of Technology (IUT) shared their experience with having technical problems for a few students, causing hindrance in the class. Also not having a broadband internet connection and continuing with low internet speed over cellular caused so much buffering and also, they are way too costly to continue it for months. Things were far from being smooth. Although the classes were on a trial basis, the communication between the teacher and the students was ambiguous at best and pointless at worst. Not to mention, for engineering studies online class failed to provide the quality education needed for proper understanding as well as not getting any practical knowledge. Suppose in a physical class of 70 min, a teacher can give 10 or more problems or he can complete a big theory. But it takes more time in online classes. Also, for some students, it takes a lot of time to get used to the Zoom app which is why they couldn’t hear anything in the first 30 mins. Interruption due to load shedding and missing lectures is a common experience among all which is difficult to cover later. 

For the students from the Military Institute of Engineering and Technology (MIST), some have found their instructors not trained enough to teach with online equipment. They were unable to clear their doubts. Also because of network problems and load shedding they missed the class sometimes. At times, the teacher couldn’t hear them and share problems. Though the teacher tried hard, he wasn’t able to prove the important points of the lecture properly. Especially classes or lectures which include math and mechanics were hard to understand. To some, it seemed like time loss as they couldn’t understand any of the classes, and internet connection also turned to be an issue every day.

As for North South University (NSU), while some found the classes to be smooth most of the time, some students also faced utter hindrance. A participant faced problems three times only, once when his WIFI was being extremely slow and it kept getting disconnected from his Google Meet classroom and the other two times were when the electricity left during his class time. Some are staying in their hometown and the network in the area is not good. Moreover, the price of data packs provided by the mobile operator is very high. So, they had faced a slow internet connection and load-shedding problem as well as. It’s very tough to concentrate on online classes as everyone’s not used to with this system. One shared that he attended classes when NSU was open and haven’t faced any technological interruptions but most of the teachers weren’t prepared or trained to take online classes. Some opine the classes to be ineffective and there’s absolutely no point attending these classes. Only one out of the four faculties they have managed to make them participate in class and made sure they listen to the teacher and understand (that too, a GED course) Other major courses are complete disasters with either the teacher lost in his world or the teacher asking so many questions every minute that people keep responding all at the same time and it’s hard to follow which answer the teacher is accepting or which topic he is actually in, when. One shared that the only reason he’d probably still be continuing the courses instead of dropping it is due to the fear of lagging behind from his batch mates. For some students, most of the classes went well but some faculties are not well equipped to take proper classes using technology. Also, the instructor failed to make students understand math-based subjects. That creates an unfair learning experience for the students. Classes went smoothly most of the time because some had a stable internet connection. For students who are facing problems with an internet connection, some suggested that lectures should be recorded and then be given to students so that they can review it at their convenience. But taking an exam is right next to impossible. Also, online classes are fun but not educational. Also, the faculty took a quiz where they had to solve 34 lengthy MCQs within 10 minutes which clearly was not sufficient. This shows how unprepared and untrained the system is in terms of facilitating online education. Two times classes were disrupted for power failure. Once, the power went off 2 minutes after an online quiz, if it were 2 minutes earlier then all the answers would wipe off. Especially the math classes, the teacher have gone through reading math. The students need a proper online environment to learn, not just pass the semester. 

Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) administration gathered the most compliments for smooth classes along with supporting their students from financial help to the extent of paying for the mobile data expenses for those who couldn’t attend classes due to not having an internet connection.

The majority of the classes went smoothly, then again for some, lots of buffering took attention away and it gets very difficult to gather the willpower to study. Some complained about the environment being inconducive to study. Teachers are inexperienced regarding online teaching. Understanding critical content using online platforms is difficult. Some lack motivation due to limited information about future consequences e.g. would there be final exams? will our course materials will be fully covered? They are getting expenses for mobile data but with the network connection the main issue is it fluctuates, the online classes hang up and start over, as a result, they cannot listen to their lecture properly and most importantly some don’t understand what they are teaching as an online platform is new and their all courses are also new for them. One finds it difficult to follow along as the interactives of physical classes are missing from the online classes and surely that’s a case for many. Online classes are fine but online tests are not and suggestions to not be assessed based on online exams but be assessed on different assignments and self-study reports. Evidently, most of the problems seem to be personal when all the requirements are met and also measurements taken by the BUP administrations are the ones to showcase as models. 

An attendee from East West University (EWU) shared that last Wednesday in his Accounting course, his course teacher’s connection lost because of the internet and they waited for her for 10 minutes. A student of media studies from the University of Liberal Arts (ULAB) mentioned as most of her courses are related to fieldwork, online classes won’t come as much use to her.  

The public universities are on trials and yet to conduct online classes on a scheduled basis. 

We aren’t getting over the pandemic any time sooner and also the academic tasks shouldn’t be stopped because of the situation where imposing a solution to the eminent problem has become an issue. The experiences of several institutions point out the errors in the system which can only be figured out by going through trials several times and gathering the opinions of the attendees. Though the solution may vary from institution to institution, the core solution would always be engaging with the respective students of the institution, hearing them out and responding accordingly to their problems which will build mutual trust and understanding; thus, filling the gap in this less practiced online system and will help us to win over the pandemic. But such an effort must require mutual co-operation between students and teachers without a mentality of being highly biased towards one’s personal preferences. 

Here’s a portrayal of the students’ situations:

Survey attendee belonging Universities: (38% Public 62% Private)  North South University (NSU), Bangladesh University of Professionals(BUP), Islamic University of Technology(IUT), Jahangirnagar University(JU), East-West University(EWU), University of Dhaka(DU), Khulna University of Engineering and Technology(KUET), Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology(RUET), BRAC University, Sylhet Agricultural University(SAU), Bangladesh University of Textiles(BUTEX), Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University(HMDSTU), American International University-Bangladesh(AIUB), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh(ULAB), Shahjalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet(SUST), Independent University, Bangladesh(IUB), Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology(BUET), Military Institution of Science and Technology(MIST)

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