The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed our life. Like other parts of the world, Bangladesh is also witnessing a transition in its education sector.
The government has kept all the educational institutions closed since 17 March.
In a matter of four months, the concepts of traditional teaching and learning methods have been pitched into oblivion. And online education has come forward as the only answer.
Many say these changes were inevitable and were supposed to appear after 5-10 years. But are the teachers, students and their guardians capable to step forward, keeping pace with the changes?
Either swim or drown
Sonia attends an online class with her pen, books, note-book and a smartphone. Such a photograph taken by Tasnuva Sarwat on 2 July went viral on social media after she posted it on her Facebook wall.
According to Tasnuva, Sonia is their house-help and a ninth-grader of a Mirpur school. Her school conducts online classes now and she is an attentive student of the programme, she said.
Tasnuva, lecturer of a private university, told Prothom Alo online teaching is not a piece of cake as teachers need to motivate their students as well as know the nitty-gritty of technology.
“This is like throwing someone into water; either swim or drown,” she added.
Salman Khan, who founded Khan Academy, told Prothom Alo on 19 May in a Facebook Live programme that online education can never be an alternative to real-life classes.
But, education cannot be bound by the boundaries of time and place, and people do not need very advanced technology for this.
“I dream of the world where it is not mandatory whether you have school or high school certificates. Rather, it is important for you to have the knowledge you require for a job,” Sal Khan said.
Alongside the employers, the students have now understood the significance of having skills. Many students have now been doing online courses to sharpen their skills.
Umme Sayeeda, a student of Patuakhali Science and Technology University, lives in remote village of Pirojpur. There are times when her house has not electricity for days. Moreover, her family is facing a financial crisis.
Despite all the odds, Sayeeda attends a programme at courser.org, a popular site for online education.
Raghav Gupta, director of India and Asia Pacific Coursera, said that a total 322 programmes are currently open for students of more than 100 universities of Bangladesh for free.
EdX is also a renowned platform for online learning. Its director of communications, Alice Randall, said that a total of 86,000 Bangladeshi students are now attending EdX courses.
Robi 10 Minute School has prepared chapter-wise video contents for Bangladesh’s school and college students.
Prothom Alo talked to around 25 students of private and public universities about online education. All of them echoed two common problems: Slow internet connection and its cost.
Rashed Khan, a student of Stamford University, is now living in his village home in Chuadanga’s Kurulgachhi.
“When my university runs classes, I stay outside of my house or on the rooftop,” he told Prothom Alo.
Rashed bought a package of 25 gigabytes (GB) and 800 minutes talk-time at Tk 448 and this package covers a month for him to attend the university classes.
Alongside universities, some private medical colleges are now trying to continue their academic activities through online platforms.
Jahurul Islam Medical College student Sadia Salsabil is now staying at her Rangpur residence. She said that it is not possible to study online for medical students.
Most of the educational institutions are now using Zoom Cloud Meeting, Google Meet, Google Classroom, Messenger and Facebook groups for their classes and activities.
There are some universities which use their own software and apps. Brac University uses its own software Baksho while Daffodil International University has a digital platform named Blended Learning Centre.
Online classes of schools and colleges
Birshreshtha Noor Mohammad Public College’s English language teacher Nazmus Sakib told Prothom Alo about various problems of online classes.
“Suppose, two of my students are siblings. Both of them have classes in the morning. But, the only smartphone they have is taken away by their father to his office. How can I tell them to attend online classes?” he posed the question while Prothom Alo.
Teachers also have trouble coping with new technologies, he added.
Most of the English-medium schools of Dhaka including Sunbeams and Sunnydale are conducting online classes in full swing.
YWCA School and College, Notre Dame College and Viqarunnisa Noon School & College are also running their classes online regularly.
However, a ninth-grader of Morgan Girls’ High School in Narayanganj told Prothom Alo that she does not understand what her teachers teach online. “I can’t hear them clearly on online classes,” she said.
The method of tutoring and coaching classes has also changed. If one walks carefully in the alleys of Dhaka, it will be seen advertisements of online teaching and tutoring through video calls.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s former teacher professor Mohammad Kaykobad who recently joined Brac University as a distinguished professor told Prothom Alo that online classes should run.
“Suppose, 70 per cent students of a class can attend online classes and the rest cannot. It is cruel but we need to conduct classes for the majority. There are disparities everywhere. But, we should lessen it,” he said.
“Lessening discrimination is the responsibility of everyone including educational institutions, teachers, students, concerned ministries, and mobile phone operators,” added Mohammad Kaykobad.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Imam Hossain.