Many students are unable to take part in the classes because of lack of access to smartphones, inability to afford internet packages, and disruptions in power supply
Roki Hasan (not his real name), a second year student of the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University, participated in an online class from his village home on Saturday.
However, Roki could not understand the lesson properly as he faced internet problems during the class. And there is no chance that he can listen to the lecture for a second time since he attended the class by borrowing his cousin's cell phone.
More than 20 out of 70 students in Roki's class do not have smartphones or personal computers and therefore they could not attend Saturday's class.
This is not an isolated incident. In fact, the overall scene of online classes being conducted by the university amid the coronavirus pandemic is quite common for students.
Dhaka University started online classes in full swing from July 1 but a good number of students are unable to take part in the classes owing to lack of access to smartphones or any similar digital devices, inability to afford internet packages and disruptions in electricity supply.
Students who have not been able to attend classes so far have urged the university authorities to provide them with digital devices and stipends for buying internet packages.
The Bangladesh Teachers' Network also called for taking necessary preparations to prevent discrimination among students in a situation when most students have gone to their native homes, where many of them do not have access to the internet.
For their part, the Dhaka University authorities said they would identify the problems and provide the necessary support to their students.
DU Vice-Chancellor Professor Akhtaruzzaman told The Business Standard that the university had formed a committee to oversee online classes and identify problems the students were facing in attending the classes.
"We will do everything for our students," he added.
Expressing his keenness to participate in the online classes for the sake of ensuring smooth academic progress, Roki said, "Our education will be affected if the university does not support us."
Farah Ishaq, assistant professor of the health economics institute, told The Business Standard that she had conducted a class on Saturday but had to face multiple difficulties.
"Many students complained that they could not connect to the internet, while some of them faced disruptions in electricity supply. Moreover, a good number of students do not have smartphones," she added.
"We are trying to resolve the issues our students are facing. However, we cannot solve the internet-related difficulties," she said.
Another teacher of the university, seeking anonymity, said that she took a class on July 2. Some 120 out of 201 students studying the course took part in the class, while five students had to quit the class midway because of internet connection problems.
"Most of the absentees have no access to smartphones and almost all of them are from rural areas," she said.
Dr Samina Lutfa, one of the spokespersons of the Bangladesh Teachers' Network, told The Business Standard that the platform was not against conducting of online classes but against the discrimination related to the process.
"Our education system itself is discriminatory in various ways and we do not want to see any further discrimination during this Covid-19 crisis. Therefore, we have urged the government to take all necessary preparations before launching online classes," she said.
"We are observing the classes and identifying the problems based on information provided by both teachers and students. We will give our feedback on this next week," she added.
Earlier on July 2, the Teachers' Network suggested that the government devise a long-term plan to improve the quality of higher education in the country.
It recommended providing a Tk3,000 monthly stipend to impoverished students for a year, Tk20,000 each for 50 percent students for buying digital devices, and decreasing tuition fees at least by 50 percent for private university students.