Studying in the Dark?
Photos:Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
As soon as summer hits the country, people seem to lose a little bit of their happy dispositions and become slightly depressed, impatient and sometimes even violent. The young souls, students of different high schools and universities, and maybe even the young adults who have just entered the job market, seem lethargic and get all nostalgic when they speak of the good old winter days, even though infested with mosquitoes. There might be many reasons as to why the young students lose their vibrancy during the summer season, one of them definitely being frequent power failure or 'load-shedding' as we like to call it.
Writing the class assignment instead of typing is the only option.
One of the biggest problems Bangladesh has been facing, every summer for the last few years, is load-shedding the absence of electricity. This means -- no lights, fan, air conditioner, television, computer -- everything stays switched off for a considerable amount of time, sometimes hours, to create absolute mayhem. Many have now taken this for granted in Bangladesh, but the students seem to suffer the most, especially in these months when the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam preparations are going strong and semester finals are taking place in many universities.
“With my HSC exams coming up, the electricity unavailability is actually disrupting everything for me!” says Khan Tanzir Ahmed, an HSC student. He adds, “Even the IPS cannot supply back up for long. I am scared because I can see that I completely lose the mood and lose the will to study during the few hours when there is electricity at home.”
Frequent load-shedding throughout the day gives rise to all sorts of problems for students.
Many students plan to study after dark, hoping that the electricity would be available at least during those hours. “Electricity is gone even after midnight!" adds Ahmed. "There was a time when load-shedding would subside after 11pm or 12 am. I would spend at least two or three hours studying and revising my subjects in peace. But now it is just getting out of hand. I have to wake up very early in the morning to get some light and study.”
Apart from the HSC students, university students also face problems with their studies when load-shedding plays its infamous game of torture. The good news, however, for some of the public university students is that in the National Grid, they can keep sane since there are reservations made for the availability of electricity so that the students can study and work on their research projects.
Studying over the candle light could be hard.
AFM Niaz, a student from Dhaka University with a degree in Graphic Design, lives in the F Rahman Hall of the university. “Our halls lose electricity for around 1 hour everyday at 1 pm in the afternoon," says Niaz. "After that, we hardly realise if the electricity is gone in other places outside campus. Very rarely, the electricity is gone for about 10 minutes during the night. But that is about it.” Niaz would stay with his parents, before moving into the dorms, which he is glad he did. “When I was with my family at home, I used to live what I like to call a 'contradictory life,'" he says. "The electricity would be gone every other hour, which made it very difficult for me to study or do my projects. Since I am a student of design, a lot of practical work needs to be done. I could not use my computer whenever I needed to. Meeting deadlines had become a challenge. I had to keep two back up files, one on my computer hard drive and one on my friend's computer hard drive, just to make sure that my work was safe. It was absolutely absurd!”
The electricity crisis had started around the year 2004-5 when the gas crisis became big. Since gas is used in the power plants to produce electricity, the scarcity of that very gas is what has been causing the power to be unavailable. According to Shahriar Khan, Deputy Editor (reporting), the Daily Star, to solve the problem we have been facing for the past many years, the government had to come up with a short term plan to solve it. "There are many ways to run a power plant," he says. "Nuclear -- which was not an option since it cannot be considered short-term, solar -- which is too expensive, coal -- which also cannot be considered short term, leaving us with gas and oil. Obviously due to the scarcity of gas, which was the main cause of this problem, the government has opted for oil. Oil is also very expensive but there is, literally, no more options left for us.”
The government of Bangladesh and BDPDB (Bangladesh Power Development Board) have taken the initiative to install two dozen rental power plants using either diesel or heavy fuel oil. By the year 2011 more than half of the plants were complete. “Diesel and heavy fuel oil are also very expensive and through these projects, a lot of loss had to be incurred," explains Khan. "From October of last year till February this year, there was no load-shedding what so ever, but once the money taken in to complete these projects was finished, everything went back to square one. Only when it rains, the electricity seems to stay consistent. The BDPDB is hoping to overcome these problems. Right now, students would just have to hope that it rains a lot!”
The main problem lies in the generation of electricity and also the demand of electricity made. That is when load-shedding really occurs. Since the problem also revolves around the inadequate supply of gas and needs extensive use of oil, one could probably quip that there is probably no way out for us than to manage more and more money which will pay for the oil to generate electricity.
BUET uses its own power plant to generate electricity. Photo: Faisal Hasan
“One of the reasons as to why we cannot supply as much electricity as required, is because of the weather," says a BDPDB official, wishing to stay anonymous. "The heat and dryness of the weather causes our crops and fields to dry up. We need to supply an adequate amount of electricity to our farmers to mend their crops. Which is why when there is rain, electricity is more available than other times because the farmers do not need electricity for their water supply. The summer season is going hectic but we are hoping that from mid-May to June or July, this year, the situation will improve.”
Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET) has been using its own power plant and generating its own electricity. “The students of BUET do not have to face the problems most students do studying elsewhere," says Aneek Mostafa Anwar, a Mechanical Engineering student of BUET. "Since we have our own power plant, we divide the source of electricity in two parts through out the day. The first 12 hours, we use the government power plants and the next 12 hours we use our own which runs on gas. The little shift between the two sources is the only time that the electricity is gone and it only lasts for about 30 seconds.”
Before moving into one of the halls of BUET, Aneek used to live with his parents back in Khulna. “I, obviously, had to face a lot of load-shedding when I was living at home and even now when I go home for holidays, I have to face it. Since I am studying to be an Engineer, I realise the reasons behind load-shedding, but I have to say that the government has turned it into such a mess that it has become an inexplicable problem to solve and will take a lot of time," he adds.
Load-shedding has, sadly, become a part of every students life.
The respective university and school authorities can help the students by allowing them to study in their premises after class hours, especially during exam weeks. For instance, students at North South University (NSU), during final weeks, spend hours working on their final projects in the labs or just studying in groups till 10-11 at night.
With problems come solutions, and with the young people involved, there might be many innovative ones which might just pop out from someone's sleeves! “For one thing, students need to plan their study time way ahead of their exam schedule," says Aneek. "Using as much daylight as possible is a solution, for which students would need to wake up early. We also need to conserve electricity, limit our usage and NOT cross that limit! A simple act like switching off the lights, fans, air conditioner, TV sets, while leaving the room, would help conserve electricity in a big way."
A call out to all the young minds of the country to change age-old ideas and antiquated norms, because only then will the young generation be able to keep up with the rest of the world and also make this country a better place to live in.