The coronavirus outbreak in the country had stalled normal activities of educational institutions since 17 March. At the beginning it was thought the crisis would be over in a short time. But as the situation deteriorated, the government decided to close the educational institutions till 3 October. However, education for millions of students cannot be held up for too long. To overcome the crisis, private universities were the first to launch online classes. Later public universities also came forward, though half of the students cannot avail such classes. Many students in remote areas do not have smartphones and are not able to attend classes online.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has written to the Ministry of Education recommending free internet packages for university level students to bring more students into online education. Earlier, the private university association also made a similar demand to the government. That was in June. There was still no response from the policy-making body of the government.
On 6 July, education minister Dipu Moni agreed with the UGC's proposal. Many students could not afford to participate in online classes. It is the responsibility of the government to help those students. But policymakers are not as concerned about their classes as they are about the students' annual exams.
Any expenditure in the education sector is a big investment for the future of the country.
The education minister said there were talks on a free internet package or low-cost internet facility in the first week of July. Then decision was made on 2 September, after about two months. The government mobile operator Teletalk decided to provide internet facilities to students at low cost last Wednesday. According to the UGC press release, Teletalk will provide internet bandwidth to university level students at a nominal price. Students will be able to avail this service using the Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN) platform run by UGC. At present, 42 public and 8 private universities use the BdREN platform. For this students have to pay 100 taka per month.
We welcome Teletalk's decision. At the same time, we believe that all mobile operators should come forward to help of poor students. The education ministry and the telecommunications ministry will have to play a special role in this regard. It may not be possible for a single mobile operator to provide online facilities to a large number of students. The quality of service of Teletalk is poor, we all know.
Parents and students demand that students of all educational institutions, not just universities, should be provided with internet facilities at low cost or free of cost. Their demand is not unreasonable. The number of students at secondary and higher secondary level is much higher. The government's online education activities cannot be successful without internet access.
Students' interests must be put first. If necessary, financial assistance can be given to interested students to buy smartphones as per the recommendation of the UGC chairman. We should remember, any expenditure in the education sector is a big investment for the future of the country.