Agathakurpara is a small village in Barguna district where national grid electricity hasn't reached yet. The whole village is run by solar power.
With most of the educational institutes taking classes online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the students in this village are finding it very difficult to attend classes.
Electricity isn't the only issue in Agathakurpara. The mobile phone network in that area is also terrible.
Khaing Thazan Thingi, a university student currently staying in the village said that she and her brother Thiri need to go to another upazila, with comparatively better network coverage, only to attend classes.
"If I need to go outside to do my classes, what's the purpose of the stay-at-home guidelines anyways," she said.
"We moved to our village from Dhaka at the beginning of the pandemic. Everything was going fine at first. But when the university started taking classes online, our days of struggle began," she said.
The network coverage in the upazila where we go to do our classes is also not very strong, she said, adding that she gets disconnected multiple times during each lecture.
Everything in Thingi's house runs on solar power. With rain pouring down now and then and the sky remaining cloudy for a long time, the solar panels aren't exactly generating as much power as needed.
All the devices run out of power within a few hours whenever there's rain. At that time, neither she nor her brother can go to the nearby upazila to attend classes.
With Covid-19 leaving a mark in the education sector along with other sectors, it is the students who are suffering the most.
A report from Save the Children shows that 1.59 billion students worldwide and 1.2 million students in Bangladesh are facing a study gap due to the pandemic.
Experts assume that the pandemic will cause serious unemployment, study gap and increase the rate of student dropout. The students who graduated recently will also face difficulties getting into the job market.
To avoid the study gap and other problems, both siblings are continuing their classes, despite the lack of electricity and a poor internet connection. The fun learning experience they had so far from a liberal arts university is turning into a nightmare for them. They are putting all their energy and effort to cope with their study, and are trying to adapt to the "new normal" education system.
But cloudy weather and poor network isn't the only problem the students are facing. The affordability of owning smart devices is also a major drawback for online classes in Bangladesh.
Thingi said that she needs at least two devices to connect to the internet and do her online classes.
At first, she needs to connect her smartphone to the internet, and then she needs to connect that smartphone to her laptop by creating a portable hotspot using the phone. The cheap internet modems available in the market barely work in places with a weak network coverage.
In Bangladesh, it's no secret that many students cannot continue their study due to poverty. We have seen even primary level students getting involved in child labour to support their families.
Even with all the barriers, we often hear about success stories of students continuing their education against all odds.
But how many of them can afford the money to buy not one, but two devices and mobile data to continue their education?
This is one of the questions Thingi also asked during the interview. As the conversation continued, the problems she was facing became more and more complicated.
While attending classes itself was a challenge, taking exams online was even more horrifying for her.
"During my midterm exam, it was pouring rain the whole day. As I was giving my exam, the battery of my laptop depleted and it shut down. The phone also started showing a low battery warning in the display since both of them were running the whole time. With heavy rain outside, I didn't know what to do," Thingi said.
Being unable to do anything, she went to her uncle's house nearby with her father's smartphone. Since her uncle had a backup IPS that stores solar power, she worked on her midterm script there while charging her devices.
It was 11:35pm when she was done charging the devices. She returned home and submitted the script at 1:30am, an hour and a half after the submission deadline.
A student's main focus should be to concentrate on study. But in Thingi's case, the main challenges were solely technical, and she was not the only sufferer.
Besides network issues and lack of devices, costly data packs are also a major challenge for students doing online classes. Research shows that 87% of public university students have smartphones but can't afford to buy mobile data.
Amid the pandemic, a huge number of students moved to their hometown. While many kept trying to use mobile internet, many others attempted to take a broadband connection with the hopes of better connectivity. But that turned out to be more expensive than a smartphone itself!
Talking to several students in remote areas of Panchagarh, this correspondent learned that the local broadband providers asked as much as Tk10,000 as connection charge. In some areas, the connection charge varied in between Tk6-8 thousand.
Taufiq Mubin, a student of Dhaka University, now living in Narsingdi, also faced the same problems.
He said that internet providers demanded Tk7,000 for an internet connection from him, that includes the connection charge, cost of wiring, one-month bill and router.
A regular router used at home usually costs around Tk1-2 thousand.
"For me and most of the villages, this is very expensive. Many people can't afford it," Taufiq said.
He also faced issues using multiple devices.
"At the beginning, I didn't have a smartphone. My laptop is also very old and slow. Without a steady internet connection, it gets difficult for me to work on my laptop," he said.
After trying for a few months, Taufiq had to stop joining his classes since streaming videos requires good connectivity. He is continuing to work on the part-time job he has, but is still facing lots of problems with connectivity.
It's not only students living in rural areas that are facing issues. Farzana Seema, another student of a private university said that she had to submit her midterm script half-done because it was raining outside and she feared that the electricity or internet may go down anytime.
"I knew all the answers and I had enough time to answer them. But I panicked and had to submit it halfway," she said.
While the weak and costly internet connections are demotivating many students to continue their online classes, several officials of educational institutes, not willing to be named, said that the admission rate has also dropped significantly.
Not many students are getting enrolled in new courses, and the students who do, are getting enrolled in one or two courses max.
Researches from University Teachers Network, Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information, Institute of Governance and development and Brac show that 40% of public university students are facing lack of digital devices, 40% school students are not following online classes.
The researches further said that 15% of private sector teachers have changed their profession and 38% of households are facing a lack of internet connection.
The concept of online education seemed like the most appropriate one with the world facing a pandemic. But Bangladesh, with its existing infrastructure, cannot in any way continue this without turning it into a nightmare for students.