Accessibility of online education for the students in Bangladesh

Two years back in March 2020, I received an opportunity for teaching at Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania under Erasmus+ KA107 (international credit mobility) program for one week from March 8 for 14, 2020.

On March 10, a day before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 as world pandemic, when I enter to the class room for conducting a class of masters program in the evening, I found only two people there, the regular teacher of the course and one student. When I asked the teacher about rest of the students, he informed they joined remotely online. But the cause of joining class was not Covid-19. March 11 is celebrated as the day of the Restoration of Independence of Lithuania. The rest of the students were taking preparation for the day in their own locality and that is why they joined the class online. I conducted the class properly and provide assignment for all on their online learning platform which is Moodle, a well-known online learning platform.

That was my first experience in remote teaching or online class. Now, the fact is the first world countries were experienced with the concept of online learning long before Covid-19.  On the other hand, in Bangladesh, there were only a few online learning platforms but not that much popular to all and they were not in the mainstream education system.

On March 17, 2020 when the educational institution were forced to closed due to Covid-19, most of the institutions had no clue about what to do. Then the government suggested for online class and inspire the teachers to create online lectures/ materials and provide to students using different digital platforms.

But the fact is, despite of the hard work of the teachers and various initiatives of the concern authority country wide it was not that much effective in all levels.

Some of the private universities developed their own online learning platform that helped them a lot to run their academic activities during the ‘lockdown’. For example, Daffodil International University, developed their own online learning platform Blended Learning Center (BLC) that they have using for a long time and also trained their teachers and students accordingly. So they can easily cope-up with the online system during the pandemic.   

But when we will talk about the whole education system, we have to talk about all of the students of Bangladesh. Here we face a division which is globally coined as ‘Digital Divide’. Digital Divide indicates the gap between the people regarding their access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and their usages.

Undoubtedly, Bangladesh is experiencing the best time ever in terms of technological advancement. According to the report of the Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Commission’s (BTRC) number of mobile internet users is 113.90 million in March 2022 while the total population of Bangladesh is around 166 million. It shows that most of the people in Bangladesh have access to internet but the fact is these data did not reflect the reality. There are a significant number of people who use multiple mobile set. So, the data based on users of mobile internet can never portray the real picture.

Several report of different sources, show different report. A global platform for data, DATAREPORTAL revealed that in Bangladesh, till April 2022, 114 million people, or more than two-thirds (67.9 percent) of the population, are still without access to the internet. 

Similarly, a study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem) in 2020, stated that Only 50% of urban families have access to the internet, compared to fewer than 30% in rural areas. However, just 10% of the overall female population in the country has ever used ICT services.

On the one hand, according to a analysis, Bangladesh has the cheapest per GB mobile data internet in Asia and is rated 8 in the world for delivering the cheapest rate in 2021. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, just 37.6% of Bangladeshi households have internet connectivity. Only 5.6 percent of families have a computer, according to the study.

According to Digital Quality of Life Index for 2021, Bangladesh is now ranked 103rd out of 110 countries in the world.

The aforesaid data clearly indicates that the accessibility of internet and ICT devices is not equal to all people of the Bangladesh. The urban people are the more beneficiary of the technology while the rural people are still struggling to be a proper digital citizen. That means the digital divide is depriving a large number of students to get one of their basic human rights ‘Education’.  As a result, many institutions could not conduct a single class for almost one and a half year during the lockdown. Even, the result of HSC was given based on previous exam results without taking any board examination. The public universities also stopped their classes and did not take any examination as a result the students lost an academic year.  The university admission tests were not held. But if we had a better online education system, we can easily solve these problems during the pandemic.

When we are talking about ‘Digital Education’, it means the accessibility of e-learning in the educational institution and remote learning through different digital technologies and devices. But the students of Bangladesh, especially who are in rural area did not have the access to proper devices. The students who study in government primary school most of them are from poor family and even no one of their family has any smart phone to access the internet. Another thing is, most of the guardians of those students are not also educated enough to teach them the digital literacy as a result that portion of the students become outsider in the digital world.

At the same time, there is a fear among some ‘senior teacher’ regarding the using of online platforms which is another type of Digital Divide. So, the proper utilization of the digital technology in education is lagging behind.  Under this scenario, the government should play a vital role to reach all the students and train the teachers properly with all the technologies related to education.

The Government introduced the policies to digitalize the education. They are also developing digital classes in many institutions. But the work is not done yet. The recent initiatives of the government regarding digital education is very praising. They recently they developed the Blended Education National Taskforce and  in March 2022, the taskforce organized a two-day long workshop at Daffodil International University to finalize the ‘Blended Education Master Plan’. In the workshop they planned for their immediate, short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions with budget. They developed the plan to cover all the educational institution including Madrasahs and National Universities. It indicates, the committee rightly addressed the issue to omit the digital divide in the education sector.

Along with the, government initiatives the private sector should also work in this sector so that all the students of Bangladesh can enjoy the Digital Education system.

Writer’s Bio: Md. Rashedul Islam is a Lecturer (Senior Scale) at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication. His fields of expertise include Communication, Public Relations, Digital Media, Online and Broadcast Journalism. He also worked as a Sports Journalist in a renowned Bangladesh daily.