It’s good to read the recent Dhaka Tribune report that the government is planning to introduce ICT in primary education. The question is: What will be taught?
Primary school children in Bangladesh probably have never seen or touched a computer before. Teaching them involves starting at a much more basic level than students in the West, who have generally seen computers at home from a young age.
Some thought should go into using ICT to strengthen math and English teaching, which are two subjects that many Bangladeshi students have difficulty passing. Planning also needs to go into training primary school teachers, who in many cases will not have much experience in computers themselves.
Firstly, using a computer requires developing basic skills with a mouse and keyboard. That means that from age seven or eight, children could be shown how to use child-oriented simple painting software like the free/open-source TuxPaint (www.tuxpaint.org).
This will teach the basics of controlling a cursor on the screen by moving a mouse and performing various actions with mouse clicks.
Secondly, a basic familiarity with the keyboard has to be gained. This can be done with the free/open-source TuxType (https://tux4kids.alioth.debian.org/tuxtype/) software, which has created a number of free arcade games based on typing speed.
Thirdly, children should be introduced to the wealth of educational materials available on the internet. Many school children have trouble with learning some aspect of mathematics. Failure to learn primary school mathematics is one of the big reasons that so many students abandon science subjects for commerce and arts studies, and is, in worst case scenarios, a reason they don’t pursue secondary education at all.
Firstly, primary school teachers need to be well-trained to successfully introduce ICT in primary schools. Secondly, all primary schools need to be equipped with computer labs
However, introducing students to Khan Academy’s instructional videos (www.khanacademy.org) can remedy many of the shortcomings of rural schools by giving students access to high-quality mathematical instruction.
This should be introduced by age eight or nine, which is around the time that more abstract mathematical concepts like fractions, ratios, and percentages start being introduced and begin to confuse students. Viewing of Khan Academy videos will hopefully help clarify otherwise unclear concepts.
Khan Academy videos are also being translated into Bangla (bn.khanacademy.org). Watching the same videos first in Bangla and then in English will not only give students access to high-quality mathematics tutorials, but will also increase their exposure to spoken English.
This should help primary school students to learn English, which is another subject that students frequently have difficulty passing, and presents a barrier to pursuing secondary education.
Finally comes the matter of computer programming. Most computer programming languages like C and Java require the student to type in large amounts of programming text (usually called “program code”). This makes them almost impossible to access for primary school students who have not had years of practice to develop touch-typing skills.
However, researchers at MIT have created the free/open-source Scratch programming language (scratch.mit.edu) especially for young children without typing skills. Instead of forcing students to type in long pages of program code, Scratch allows them to use a mouse to drag and drop simple puzzle pieces of program code into a usable program.
There are also free/open-source books available on scratch which can be translated into Bangla and used locally, for example Learn To Code With Scratch (https://www.raspberrypi.org/magpi-issues/Essentials_Scratch_v1.pdf). This is a book written by the staff of MagPi magazine for users of the RaspberryPi educational computer, and released under a Creative Commons license which permits translation and free redistribution.
It covers the basics of programming simple games using Scratch, which will give students a basic exposure to programming, which can be followed up in more detail in secondary school.
As is obvious from the above, the main issues with teaching ICT to primary school students have largely been dealt with in other countries, and a wealth of free/open-source software and educational materials have been created for this purpose. However, two core issues remain.
Firstly, primary school teachers need to be well-trained in all the above in order to successfully introduce ICT in primary schools. Secondly, all primary schools need to be equipped with computer labs. This can be most economically done by utilising low-cost Linux-powered educational computers like RaspberryPi (www.raspberrypi.org), which provide computing ability at a far lower price point than any other combination of hardware and software.
Various companies including my own, www.sysnova.com, have already been importing and distributing RaspberryPi computers in Bangladesh -- Sysnova has so far trained over 1,000 ICT teachers around the country on how to use them. But this effort of teacher training will have to expand many times over, if every primary school in the country is to be covered.
Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.