Eight days after Bangladesh detected the first case of coronavirus, in March 2020, the government decided to keep all educational institutions closed, aiming to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. The education ministry later extended the closure several times and as of today education institutions remain closed.
This author would try to propound own views on how to continue and maintain higher education activities through online sessions. The question remains: What will happen if this coronavirus never leaves us? In that case, how long will the educational institutions be kept shut? Are we then ready for adapting ourselves with this revolutionary online platform'? The simplest answer is "no", as suggests the topsy-turvy situation during the pandemic.
The biggest drawback in this regard is the mindset of the teachers and students. Teachers are so accustomed to being in physical classes that they lack confidence when it comes to virtual classes. Their major challenges are inertia and fear of not being able to do the job properly. Teachers still feel more at ease conducting classes in the 300-year-old "Chalk and Talk" method.
There is a lack of willingness to adopt change; the teachers think it is a burdensome job. First, they have to create pedagogy as well as digital content for the pedagogy. Then they have to create different types of slides to make the content understandable to the students, as it needs to have sequential arrangement in description. The teachers also have to be well-versed in handling technology.
They need WiFi or broadband Internet connection. In fact, the hassle in the traditional education system is always less than it is in an online education system. That is why both teachers and students are not comfortable with this online mode.
A key reason for this mindset may be the fear of the unknown - Just as the uncertainty in retaining their job haunts them, the fear of not being able to adapt to the "new normal" unsettles their mind. Indeed, it's a time of uncertainty. A little detail may clarify the issue.
The process of recruiting teachers in Bangladesh's current educational system is flawed. To be a university teacher, one must have good academic background. A PhD degree from foreign university, especially one in North America, is commendable. The problem arises when these well-qualified teachers are being recruited as teachers at the university level; they express their unwillingness to create pedagogy. But when they had studied abroad, they were bound to create pedagogy as part of their regular curriculum. The main reason is the lack of practice. Probably, they thought practising was a waste of time.
However, tech-based learning can never replace a teacher in classroom and his or her contributions. The obvious suggestion in this regard could be starting online higher education activities by creating learning materials with the help of reputable teachers, then disseminating them among students through a large platform.
This is called "learning management system" or LMS. Its advantage is that little technology is required to create pedagogy. The biggest challenge is to manage online learning activities smoothly. Once the activities are created, they can be communicated to students through any means of technology; the students will be able to retrieve them for the preparation of their examination.
In the horrifying situation of this pandemic, every teacher is home-quarantined. As teachers had to prepare lectures for face-to-face classes, they should do more or less the same for the purpose of online teaching. The only difference is that the teachers now have to be a little more creative. They need to use real-life examples, various pictographs or videography to create a course content that is more interesting and more understandable. This just takes a little more effort.
To do this, a teacher doesn't need to be a tech-savvy. S/he just needs a little time, initiative and imagination to create something new, which we call "innovation". In addition to the pedagogy and a platform, online classes require a high speed Internet connection, a smart phone or a good quality tablet or a laptop or desktop.
To overcome the challenges, authorities should keep in mind three relevant questions: a). whether the teacher is ready; b) whether the students are ready; and c) whether the necessities are available.
Engagement and collaboration between teachers and students have to be strong enough for a well-organised online class. It helps to create enthusiasm among the students. The self-motivated students eventually become more inclined to innovation. This is called 'meta-cognition', where students will be self-motivated and interested in reading and learning on their own. Teachers are just helping to create such a world.
The challenges in management of higher education activities through online work include: a) Lack of appropriate content; b) lack of preparedness; c) lack of detailed information about online classes in university rules and regulations; d) problems in adapting technology; f) problems of uninterrupted power supply which cause time wastage; g) the hassle of creating and changing class routines frequently; and h) lack of content safety and security.
However, in this regard, the government's existing eFiling policy option can be a best practice to follow.
Many people have questions about the examination process through an online mode. The process may be undertaken in such a way that teachers take group presentations from the students through a video conference every day and are also able to give the marks based on their presentation. Apart from this, the teachers can give marks by evaluating previously offered assignments, research papers or term papers.
In this regard, the students should be warned about plagiarism. Questions should be based on the MCQ (multiple choice questions) format. For descriptive questions, teachers should be more careful about cheating or plagiarism. This will help increase knowledge of the students.
The 'seen paper method' can also be applied to take online examinations. Students can have all examination-related references or documents from where they will just choose the correct answer to a question. Written answers can be scanned or photographed within a specified time and uploaded via e-mail or any other portal.
Finally, examination procedures can be completed by conducting an online interview. In all cases, the university examination rules and regulations must be kept intact.
Currently, online educational activities are treated as emergency measures. They are a key factor in overcoming the risk of session jam and other problems. But universities are not benefiting from this approach because of discriminatory administrative decisions and pressure. However, online education is seen as the only solution to the session jam. If done properly, it can revive the education sector from the current stagnation.
Professor Md. Nasiruddin Mitul is Dean at National University Bangladesh