A holistic plan, proper infrastructural capacities, all students' access to digital devices and low cost internet connections are must to ensure fully-fledged online education at universities in the country.
Academics and students attending a Star Forum, a webinar series organised by The Daily Star, yesterday also said no student should fail to avail online education for not having digital devices.
The programme, titled "Online Classes: Increasing the Education Divide?", was organised as the Covid-19 pandemic has created great uncertainties in the country's education sector, said the organisers.
Speaking on the matter, Prof Muhammed Alamgir, a member of the University Grants Commission (UGC), said the education ministry should take steps to formulate the National Online Education Policy.
"We have made our recommendations on the formulation of the policy. Based on the policy, we will be able to address all the issues."
He also said the UGC and the education ministry were working to find out how they could provide assistance to students to get digital devices like smartphones or laptops and free or low cost internet.
"I think in this Covid-19 crisis there is no alternative to online classes. All universities need to start online courses with whatever capacities they have," Alamgir added.
Prof Kamal Ahamed, president of Bangladesh Bishwabidyalay Parishad, a platform of vice-chancellors of public universities, said all universities should have assessments on the economic and the mental conditions of students.
He proposed all universities look into various problems of students and teachers like whether they need laptops or smartphones and internet access.
"All public universities are getting ready for online education, they are trying to overcome their lacking … budgetary allocation is immediately needed to address these matters", said Kamal, VC of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.
North South University VC Prof Atiqul Islam said private universities should not pressurise students over tuition fees and enrolment in new semesters. Rather, they should assist them as much as they can.
"We can help students have access to smartphones and internet," he said.
He also pointed out that without student enrolment, only 10 out of 105 private universities would be able to survive the pandemic. He proposed merging of universities to tackle the situation,
Brac University Distinguished Professor M Kaykobad said all universities should ensure online classes. "We have seen that whenever we begin using any technology, some sort of discrimination appears. But the gap narrows with time," he said.
He also said, "If students stay at home and have nothing to do, they will face more problems. Such students must be given all the assistance they need."
UGC Professor Dr Fakrul Alam proposed taking up a holistic plan before introducing online classes. "If we hurriedly start the online education, it will increase the digital divide," he said.
For the sake of smooth education in future, he also proposed "blending" online education with in-person classes after the country would get back on track from the pandemic.
University Teachers' Network organiser and Dhaka University's Associate Professor Samina Luthfa said all students' access to online education must be ensured. "Otherwise, there will be discrimination and students will be deprived of their rights to education."
She also said online classes should first be introduced for postgraduate students and then for the undergraduate students.
Jahangirnagar University student Aanica Zulfiquar proposed formation of a platform for counselling students on mental health as they have been living indoors for months amid the pandemic.
Shahjalal University of Science and Technology student Tanvir Akanda said research-based planning was needed before introducing online education to all students. "The authorities should talk to students about their needs for the planning."
Shuprova Tasneem and Mohiuddin Alamgir from The Daily Star moderated the webinar.