At a time when students of the large public universities are passing their time amid unmitigated anxiety and uncertainty, the country's premier highest seat of engineering and technology has been a resounding success. Indeed, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) has made this success story possible by carefully carrying on its academic activities in time of the pandemic when most of its counterparts could only hold classes perfunctorily or complete assignments in place of mid-term exams let alone arrange for semester finals.
How did the BUET make it possible? It was indeed challenging particularly when engineering classes constitute a good deal of practical works at laboratories. The authorities at the BUET gave a long and hard look not only at this problem but also at the very basic problems facing students. It is a fact that the country's socio-economic situation and the digital infrastructure are yet to reach the level where all the university students can afford the required gadgets. Immediately after the pandemic had begun, students coming from remote villages left the campus for their village homes. Access to internet for them was not assured even if they had procured smartphones.
This is exactly where the BUET stepped in with help. A list of those who could not afford reasonably good smartphones and laptops was prepared and they were provided with soft loans for procuring such electronic devices. Each of these students was given Tk 500 a month for purchasing data package. It took some time but once the BUET started its education programmes for the 7,000 plus students, there was no looking back. To the BUET authorities' credit, they even had provision for allocation of emergency help for students catching coronavirus. Even if members of poor students' families suffered a bout of the disease, similar helps were extended to them. For this, a telemedicine service was even introduced and this operated for eight hours a day and seven days a week. This shows how thoughtful about the particulars the BUET authorities were and their seriousness has really paid rich dividends.
What then made the programme successful is the help taken from various platforms like 'Zoom', 'Microsoft team' and 'module'. This country's mobile phone operators have their limitations of their own and also on account of absence of unhindered power supply. This problem was also taken care of by making videos of classes so that if some students missed classes including laboratory classes, they could collect those later on and keep them up to date. Clearly, the BUET left no stone unturned in order to make its academic programmes as much successful as possible.
It is because of this, assignments, term papers and semester final inclusive of laboratory works could be accomplished with active cooperation from all the stakeholders. Thus the syllabi could be completed within the stipulated time for taking semester final examinations. For examinations students, as they appeared from home, got two hours instead of three and only five minutes before the start of the examinations, the question papers were allowed to be downloaded. On completion of examinations, the examinees sent their answer in pdf files and there was no chance of taking time longer than the allotted limit because pdf file showed the uploaded time. If any examinee had technical or other difficulties to download question papers, s/he was permitted to answer beyond scheduled time but not to exceed the fixed two-hour limit.
This is how the BUET completed its courses. Even the results of the examinations were published on time. This allowed willing BUET students to appear at the recently held Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examinations and the opportunity to compete at the next one scheduled for June. Their batch mates at the University of Dhaka and other universities are still languishing and sure to feel frustrated because of the missed chances. Had their examinations been completed following a programme of the BUET type, they did not have to fall victim to session jam and lose academic years.
Now the second wave of the pandemic is sweeping the country with South African variety reportedly identified in 81 per cent of the cases, far greater uncertainty looms in the horizon before students of those public universities. But the BUET has no such problem. It is more likely to build on its experience during the first wave of the pandemic. Well, the kind of education offered online by the BUET may not be hundred per cent perfect but it was the best possible option.
At this level, graduates and masters students ought to be responsible enough to pursue their scholarly education. If the online access to teachers is assured, they know how to take guidance from their teachers. So there is no point leaving students at this level neglected and idle for long. Smaller universities are better placed on this score and many private and a few such public universities have completed their curricula like the BUET. But the larger public universities in particular have failed to address the problem. With the second wave of the pandemic throwing classroom attendance into uncertainty, it would be wiser for such public universities to follow the BUET methods in order to complete courses of graduations and masters.