Education & Culture

Political instability takes toll on students’ academic life

Published : 06 Dec 2023 09:04 PM


•    Schools scheduling exams on Fridays and Saturdays

•    Some institutions conduct exams during hartals, despite concerns

•    Private universities shift to online classes

•    Psychological well-being of students is being disrupted

•    Impacts include damage to social skills, discipline, overall development

•    Impact is less in institutions outside Dhaka

During the "Ershad period," Bangladesh grappled with a significant educational deadlock in its institutions. Subsequently, concerted efforts were made to alleviate session jams, resulting in a notable improvement. Fast forward almost three decades, Bangladesh faced a somewhat parallel challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the nation to truncate its academic semester.

Just as educational institutions were recovering from the impact of COVID-19, anti-government political parties, including the BNP, taking to the streets with disruptive political programs under the banner of Hartal-Blockade.

November and December assume paramount significance in the academic calendar, representing crucial months for students in both schools and universities as they prepare for final exams and midterms. Preparations for annual examinations were in full swing, and the government, in an effort to prevent session deadlock during the election, canceled the summer vacation for the current year.

Regrettably, towards the end of October, anti-government political parties initiated violent programs, creating a disruptive scenario that caused distress for approximately 50 million students and their parents in terms of attending classes and examinations. Despite their pleas for a peaceful resolution, concerns loomed large, especially regarding the turbulent atmosphere persisting at least through November.

These disruptions extend far beyond the political sphere, permeating the very fabric of society and adversely affecting not only academic pursuits but also the psychological well-being of students. 

Concern of guardians over students’ future

The current political instability has stirred deep concerns among guardians regarding the future of their children's education. The impact is evident as some schools remain closed on days marked by strikes and blockades, adopting a modified schedule that includes opening on Fridays and Saturdays. In response to the latest blockade, a shift to online classes from home has been necessitated, replacing the traditional in-person learning format.

Sarwar Alam's father, whose child attends the English Medium School "Play-Pen" in Bashundhara, expressed, 'Continuous blockades have prevented children from attending school, compelling us to resort to online classes from home. The disparities between in-person and virtual classes are substantial.'

The predicament has forced some parents into difficult decisions, risking the commute to schools for their children. Ruhul Amin, a parent with children in Bansree Ideal School and College, shared his dilemma, 'During the previous strike, my child was denied entry to school, resulting in a week of missed classes. With the hartal resuming, uncertainty prevails. To ensure continuity, I brought my child back to school, but anxiety looms over us, uncertain of what might transpire.'

Expressing shared concerns, Abdul Majeed Sujan, General Secretary of the Parents Forum of Vikarunnisa Noon School and College, voiced, 'The current month marks the annual examinations for our children. However, the persistent hartals and blockades have instilled fear and apprehension among parents. We are reluctant and anxious about sending our children to school.'

The adverse effects of the political situation are reflected in the low attendance of students across all educational institutions in divisional and district towns. As the uncertainties persist, guardians grapple with the delicate balance of ensuring their children's education while navigating the challenges posed by the ongoing political unrest. Parents fear that if the end-of-year exams are not held on time, their children's education will be disrupted.

Targeting Educational Institutions in the Wake of Political Unrest

The ongoing anti-government movement in Bangladesh has taken a toll on the country's educational institutions. On November 4, a bus belonging to Green University was set ablaze outside the Multiplan Center in the Elephant Road area of Dhaka. Shortly thereafter, during the BNP's 48-hour nationwide blockade, a bus transporting Dhaka University students was also set on fire. Another alarming incident occurred on November 14, when two buses of Manarat International University were maliciously set on fire in Mirpur's Beribad.

In an attempt to sow discord within the academic environment, unidentified individuals detonated at least five cocktails on the Dhaka University campus, resulting in injuries to several students. In a disturbing escalation, similar incidents occurred last week when more than three cocktails were exploded in front of the Vice-Chancellor's residential office on campus.

Adding to the chaos, during the blockade, the Chatro Dol, the student wing of the BNP, took measures to lock the main entrances of academic buildings, preventing students from accessing classrooms. These disruptive activities, orchestrated by anti-government factions, appear to be aimed at instilling fear among students, discouraging them from attending classes and contributing to an atmosphere of instability on campus.

The Inadequacy of Online Classes as a Solution

The frequent announcements of events by anti-government parties, typically with short notice, pose a significant challenge for students in devising alternative ways to attend classes. Consequently, teachers find themselves compelled to cancel scheduled classes or exams, leading to an atmosphere of uncertainty. In an attempt to mitigate the disruptions, some educators resort to transitioning to online classes with little warning.

This uncertainty leaves students in limbo, unsure of when, or if, they will be able to return to a regular, in-person classroom setting. While some students may initially perceive the return to online learning and exams as a welcomed alternative, the unpredictability and last-minute changes to class schedules have proven disruptive for many.

 Furthermore, the online learning experience, often conducted amidst the myriad distractions and casual settings of students' homes, may fall short of delivering a truly enriching educational experience.

While acknowledging the necessity of online classes given the prevailing situation, it is crucial to recognize that they are not a panacea. Former Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, said, 'Since the examination has been brought forward in the election year, I urge political parties to consider the welfare of students and refrain from scheduling programs, at least in the month of November.' This plea underscores the critical need for a collective effort to prioritize students' education amidst the challenges posed by the current political landscape."