The much-hyped government project for setting-up multimedia classrooms in secondary and higher secondary educational institutions across the country is apparently far removed from achieving its intended goal.
The education ministry distributed laptops, multimedia projectors, modems and speakers among 23,331 schools, colleges and madrasas across the country from 2012 to 2015, spending more than Tk300 crore, in the first phase of the "ICT for Education in Secondary and Higher Secondary Level Project".
About five years after the implementation of the project, it was found that 97 percent of the instruments are yet to be used in the classrooms.
As an inevitable result, many of these technological tools have already gone out of order, and others are expected to be unusable soon.
The miserable state of this project came to light in a study done in 2018 by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning.
The IMED study found that 43 percent of the laptops and 28 percent of the projectors were dead, and more than 50 percent of the students said that the laptops were of very poor quality.
According to the study findings, over 80 percent of the students and teachers think that a lack of an uninterrupted power supply, insufficient multimedia classrooms and inadequate and substandard laptops and projectors have contributed to the sorry state of the multimedia project.
Experts think that the scheme has failed because the government had taken up and implemented the project hastily, without taking into account the reality on the ground.
When the education ministry implemented the project, very few teachers knew how to create digital content or use a multimedia classroom. Even upazila education officials had hardly any idea about it. Interestingly, when the project was implemented, there was no multimedia classroom in any educational institution in the country. The education ministry at that time was criticized not only for this 'imprudent' initiative, but also for the purchase of the instruments.
The fact that the project has failed to achieve its goal is a combined result of the inefficiency of teachers and the poor quality of the instruments, experts observed.
In a recent study, the National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM) found that only 11 percent of teachers are competent enough to create content for multimedia classrooms.
While conducting its research titled "Digital Content in Higher Secondary Education in Bangladesh: Possibilities and Challenges", NAEM interviewed 27 teachers and visited 27 multimedia classrooms in different schools and colleges.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), only 1 percent of teachers at schools, colleges and madrasas are skilled enough to use multimedia classrooms and create digital content.
The UNDP study titled "Baseline Study of Multimedia Classrooms" conducted in 2014 found that only six percent of teachers could use a computer, and four percent could communicate through e-mail.
A team from The Business Standard also found the same sorry state of affairs at the multimedia classrooms in secondary and higher secondary academic institutions across the country.
Meanwhile in a recent study, the Monitoring and Evaluation Wing of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education found that 88 percent of schools are not holding multimedia classes.
Dr Md Haider Ali, a professor at the Computer Science and Engineering Department of Dhaka University, told The Business Standard that the teachers should have been trained properly in the use of multimedia classrooms before buying the instruments. "It was systems loss," he observed.
Dr Haider went on to say that the proper utilisation of public money should be ensured while implementing any project.
Teachers also blame the ministry for providing sub-standard instruments, and distributing them before training the teachers on how to use them.
Sohrab Uddin Ahmed, headmaster of Hatirdia Sadat Ali Adarsha High School under Monohardi upazila, told The Business Standard that they did not use the laptop and projector provided by the ministry because they were useless from the very beginning.
"I repaired the projector many times, but the result was zero. The laptop does not work properly when it is started. Teachers were too busy fixing such issues to hold classes properly," he said.
"One expects the laptops and other instruments that the government buys to be better than others, but what have we actually seen? The government should be more careful when buying instruments," he said.
"I collected 16 computers and laptops through my personal effort, and I also have my own laptop. All of these are being used in the multimedia classroom in my school," he explained, and added, "How could such a project be launched in the absence of skilled teachers? I can tell you for sure that very few schools in Monohardi have teachers who are skilled enough to use a multimedia classroom."
Md Sohel, headmaster of Ganoda Girls High School in Borhanuddin upazila under Bhola district, said that he was given a laptop for his school in 2015 and that he had to repair it three times in six months, but finally it stopped working after seven months.
Abul Kalam Azad, project director of Phase-1 of the ICT for Education in Secondary and Higher Secondary Level Project, said, "We had no hand in buying the instruments. The ministry decided on it."
He went on to say, "We trained at least 30,000 teachers and upazila education officials to run the multimedia classrooms."
But some of the teachers who were trained said that they could not implement anything in the classroom because they did not get any practical learning from the training.
Syed Md Golam Faraque, director general of DSHE said, "Actually, we know everything. Now we are putting emphasis on teacher training."
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the multimedia classroom project involving more than Tk300 crore in 2011. The project was scheduled to be completed within two years of approval, but it was finally completed in 2015.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the project started in 2017. The first project director of the second phase had to step down in the wake of widespread allegations of irregularities in purchasing sub-standard laptops and other instruments.