Saba, a student of Lake Circus Girl’s High School in Dhaka’s Kalabagan got A+ in Junior School Certificate (JSC) examination this year. In the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) paper she got 48 marks out of 50, which is the highest marks in her class.
Sadia and Suraiya, her classmates, also got the highest marks in the paper.
In class 6, 11-year-old Mina Khatoon Usha also got 48 out of 50. She has a computer at home and knows how to operate Windows, use software like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and even surf the internet.
Masudur Rahman, the school’s ICT teacher, said sometimes he sees Mina teaching her seniors.
A few years ago the scene was quite different. While boys would choose between agriculture and ICT, girls were were often encouraged to choose home economics.
To stop this practice and to encourage girls to become interested in ICT, the government made the ICT paper compulsory for all students from class six to higher secondary level starting in 2012. Female and male students have, out of necessity, improved their knowledge of computers, teachers say.
Schools in Dhaka and other major cities can provide the proper computer labs to facilitate this learning. Urban families usually have a computer at home that the children have access to.
For students in rural areas, the situation is completely different. Very few rural schools and colleges across the country have full-fledged computer labs and trained teaching staff.
Moshiur Rahman, a Bangla teacher at Rajabari Hat High School in Godagari upazila, Rajshahi, said: “We have one lab with six computers, two of which are broken. So our 982 students have to manage with four computers.
“Not only the girls but the boys are also deprived.” Also there are no trained ICT teachers at the schools, he added.
Few rural families have access to a computer. If a family can afford one, the preference is on giving the boys access to the machine rather than the girls.
In the absence of trained teachers, it is not possible to deliver lessons properly in school. So the girls are lagging behind, he said.
This is particularly problematic because 25 marks in the final tests are allocated to a practical exam.
The mother of Sanjida and Sajid, both students of class 9 at Nowapara School in Faridpur, said she cannot afford two computers for her two children.
She is planning to buy a computer for her son, which her daughter can share.
Dhaka Tribune correspondents in Bogra, Chandpur, Barisal, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Khulna also reported similar conditions in rural schools and colleges.
Ashish Kumar Dashgupta, the president of Barisal Teachers Association, told the Dhaka Tribune that although the ICT subject is compulsory for all students, there are simply not enough teachers for the subject.
“Diploma teachers or teachers of other subjects take ICT classes. Also qualified teachers are not interested to join because the government does not offer MPO for this subject,” he added.
In Kashimpur High School in Rajshahi, there is no computer lab. Students can only practice the practical aspects of their paper if they get access to a computer at home or somewhere outside. Students told our correspondent most of them did not have computers at home and some went to cyber cafes to learn the practical lessons.
In the conservative rural environment, it is unimaginable that a girl will visit a cyber cafe, meaning they are falling behind their male classmates in learning the basics of IT, said Anowarul Islam Dulal, the sports teacher at the school.
Students in another local school said teachers often give away the minimum pass mark required in the practical session in this paper.
Ministry of Education information desk could not immediately provide the numbers of computer labs in schools and colleges across the nation.
Dr Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said most parents think about their son’s priorities first.
“Girls are still neglected in their family. So if there are not enough facilities to learn with computers in the school or college, it will be difficult for girls to progress in the ICT sector,” she said.
In every section of the society, girls are gaining ground each day, Rasheda said.
“In the urban areas, girls are experts in using computers and internet, so the girls in rural areas are only lagging behind because of social-economic and family issues,” she remarked.
The government should have monitoring to ensure that all students get access to computers, she added.
Our correspondents Dulal Abdullah and Md Wali Newaz contributed to this story.