1. Blended learning is a mix of home-based and in-school activities that taps both online and offline approaches to learning.
2. The government is yet to introduce any national policy to conduct blended learning.
3. It did not even make a special allocation in the budget for the current fiscal year.
4. Education experts say blended learning will be essential after the pandemic as it might be impossible to conduct classes with all students together.
Online education will be a permanent part of primary, secondary and higher education in the future globally, according to blended learning experts.
Many countries like India, Singapore and even Malaysia have adopted the system.
Although blended learning, a mix of home-based and in-school activities that taps both online and offline approaches to learning, is important during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bangladesh government has been moving rather slowly in this regard.
The government, which is yet to introduce any national policy to conduct blended learning, did not make any special allocation in the budget for that for the current fiscal year.
Education experts said blended learning would be essential after the pandemic as it might be impossible to conduct classes with full student attendance.
Dr Md Aktaruzzaman, director of Blended Learning Center at Daffodil International University, told The Business Standard that there was no alternative to blended learning from primary to higher education.
"The country needs a policy at first for introducing any institutional activities. It is good that the University Grants Commission has taken an initiative to formulate a policy," he added.
Sources at the education ministry said the ministry had introduced online classes on 29 March last year but those did not bring about good results. The ministry promoted all students automatically.
Later, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education introduced assignment evaluation from November 2020, which has continued.
The primary and mass education ministry recently introduced "google meet" classes for primary students. Thirty students can attend a class at a time.
Alamgir Mohammad Monsurul Alam, director general of the Department of Primary Education, said teachers would hold classes to keep students active.
"We have a plan to train guardians also."
The education ministry has allowed in-person classes, exams in both public and private universities. It has prepared guidelines in this regard but could not come forth with any national policy.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed said, "We have been calling for identifying poor students to provide them with financial help so they can concentrate on studies. At the same time, we have told the government to take initiatives to prepare teachers for future education methods."
According to a recent report prepared by Campaign for Popular Education (Campe), 41% of secondary educational institutions neither have a multimedia classroom nor an ICT lab.
The latest survey of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education in 2019 found that 45% of secondary school teachers cannot prepare question papers for final examinations.
It also found that most teachers take ICT classes depending on textbooks, although the classes need practical exercises too.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, said the government must take lessons from the pandemic.
One of the lessons is to enhance teachers' capacity by properly equipping them so that they can impart education effectively by using distance learning methods such as online education, he said.
Professor Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said the authorities will take steps to change the classroom learning process.
"We will continue online classes alongside traditional classroom teaching," he said. "It is true that many students do not have digital devices. We will look into the matter in future planning."
All secondary schools, junior colleges and millennia institutes will start implementing blended learning for some levels from Term 3 in 2021, Education Minister Lawrence Wong announced on 29 December at the Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals 2020.
It will then be rolled out in all such schools at all levels by Term 4 in 2022.
In addition, every secondary school student is set to receive a personal learning device (PLD) – a laptop or tablet – by the end of 2021.
The concept note rolled out by the University Grants Commission on 20 May 2021 to introduce blended mode of teaching and learning at universities and colleges, where up to 40% of any course can be taught online and the rest 60% offline, is a welcome step as this will be more effective in increasing the learning skills of students and providing them with greater access to quality education.
Blended learning and the digital divide
When the Covid-19 outbreak led to a closure of educational institutions in late March last year, students, guardians and teachers alike speculated that the disruption would last a few months.
But with a continuous surge in infections and deaths, the pandemic is now likely to keep many students out of classrooms until well into 2021.
The crisis has changed how students are being taught and has left the education system scrambling to meet the needs of schools, families, and over four crore students over the last year.
With traditional classroom learning coming to a complete halt, the pandemic compelled the government to take measures like promoting students to the next class without having them sit for final exams – a move not seen in recent memory. It also caused many private schools, especially kindergartens, to close down for good.
But the pandemic has also become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period. In Bangladesh too, online learning and recorded lessons were adopted to make up for educational losses.
Such efforts to reach students staying home seem to have been successful to a greater extent in urban areas, but a lack of digital devices and poor internet connections has disrupted the learning process of many rural students.
Lack of digital facilities means that high internet cost, power and network problem bar digital schooling.
University Teachers' Network said an estimated 40% of Dhaka University students are unable to buy electronic devices and internet packages.
Government data show 51% of families do not have TVs, while Brac says 56% of students do not have access to the internet.
Educators say virtual classes get 75% student presence, and it often drops to even 25%.
Experts find remote rural areas the worst victims of Covid-19 led education inequalities
Professor Manzoor said the government needs to ensure digital devices and access to all in order to cope with the new reality as well as to reduce the digital divide.