Overcoming the digital divide remains a big challenge
With the extensive adoption of online learning, the education system in Bangladesh has gone through drastic changes in 2020 after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, as in most other countries around the world.
Experts said although the materials were inadequate and the skill of the workforce questionable, the concept of online learning brought changes to the notion of how a school, college or university could impart education, leveraging various online platforms.
They also said that the digital learning process had ushered in a new era when it came to the education system of the country.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government would not allow the reopening of educational institutes until the coronavirus situation in the country improved, to ensure the safety of teachers and students.
Earlier, Education Minister Dipu Moni said students were being taught online and through Sangsad Television, a government owned TV channel. She estimated that around 87% students concerned had been reached through this teaching process.
"Even if educational institutions reopen, online classes and assignment activities will continue amid the pandemic," the minister said.
Eminent educationalists of the country recommended that online teaching-learning be continued and the authorities should figure out its flaws to ensure that it could be utilized in the coming days even after the educational institutes reopened.
In May, the University Grants Commission (UGC) permitted all universities to conduct academic activities online instead of traditional classroom-based teaching.
All schools, colleges and universities of the country have been closed since March 18 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing the impetus for online education systems. Academic programs for students of grade VI to grade X began airing on national television from March 28, from 9am to 9pm.
The government and various state organizations provided internet facilities, affordable data and smartphone loans to expedite the adoption of online learning across the country.
But internet access in rural and semi-urban areas was still limited.
According to data provided by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), there were 93.7 million mobile internet users, 5.7 million broadband internet users and a small number of WiMAX users in the country.
However, access to the internet was not the only factor preventing students from enjoying the benefits of online education. A lack of skilled teachers, quality content, satisfactory environment and financial support were some of the key issues that still needed to be addressed.
Along with online classes, online counselling sessions should be provided to ensure that learners of all ages received mental support and learning did not become monotonous, suggested Prof Shaikh Ekramul Kabir, a member of the Education Policy 2010 Formulation Committee.
Prof Kabir hoped that matters like location, language and financial situation would not stand in the way of a learner who sought to avail top-notch online education.
“It is high time to experiment, and adopt the use of technology to bring the education system online,” the professor said.
Meanwhile, Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam told Dhaka Tribune that developing a mechanism to implement the online education policy was the major challenge.
The educationist also suggested that online learning for children would have to be structured in a better way as pre-primary level students were easily distracted.
The digital divide
Experts said many students — of both public and private universities — did not have uninterrupted access to the internet and/or suitable smartphones or computers.
In such circumstances, the Education Ministry and the UGC’s move to support the universities’ transition to online learning was a critical and timely move.
Recently, Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, deputy minister for education, emphasized the importance of overcoming the digital divide while talking about the potential of online learning.
The problem of limited internet connectivity during the Covid-19-inspired transition to online learning was not unique to Bangladesh. Indonesia had an internet penetration rate of 64.8%, while it was just 36.0% in India.
In the budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, around Tk66,400 crore was allocated for the education sector. This amounted to 11.7% of the total expenditure and a 2.1% share of the GDP.
Educationists opined that the percentage was very low compared to Bhutan and Nepal. More allocation was needed for the education sector, they said.