- Lack of digital means, high internet cost, power and network problem bar digital schooling
- An estimated 40% Dhaka University pupils unable to buy electronic devices, net packages
- Govt data show 51% families do not have TVs, while Brac says 56% students do not have access to internet
- Educators say virtual classes get 75% student presence, and it often drops even to 25%
- Experts find remote rural areas the worst victim of Covid-19 led education inequalities
- The fear dropout rate in those areas to surge in post-pandemic period
- The government is yet to arrange free net and digital tools for the needy students
Bibi Tahrim Kabir Elma, a class XI student of the capital's Motijheel Ideal School and College, has not missed any recorded classes aired on Sangsad Television nationally amid the Covid-19 pandemic since March 30. She also attended all the online classes organised by her institution's teachers.
She has learned all the lessons of her syllabus through the virtual classes and is now ready to sit for the final examinations.
She has been able to do this as her parents are solvent enough to provide her with all the digital facilities needed to support her studies in this pandemic time when the government has closed all educational institutions to contain the spread of the virus.
However, not every student in the country has the same luck as Elma.
Siam, a class VIII student of Kutuba High School of Borhanuddin upazila in Bhola, is one of those who is out of school because of the pandemic. He has not been able to attend a single online class since March 17 – the day that the schools were officially closed.
Siam's father is a day labourer. He has no television, smartphone or any other digital devices that could help him attend the online classes.
The different position of Elma and Siam is just an example of the discrimination that has been exposed by the Covid-19 affected education system of the country which has been trying to continue classes via the internet.
A lack of digital tools, the high cost of internet packages, electricity problems and also network problems have cast a deep shadow over the government's initiative.
The scenario is the same for the higher level of the education sector.
According to a study of the Bangladesh Teachers' Network, around 40 percent students of Dhaka University are unable to buy devices and internet packages. The percentage might be higher for the students of all public universities.
As per data released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 51 percent of families in the country do not own a television.
Further, the latest study by Brac found that around 56 percent of students are not connected with online or recorded classes.
Bahar Uddin, a second-year student of the Sociology Department of Dhaka University, told The Business Standard that his village home is in Kalmakanda upazila of Netrokona district where there is no electricity. As a result, he could not attend online classes.
"I have no way to attend the online classes as I have no smartphone. My family is also unable to cover the internet cost," he said.
A classmate of Bahar said on condition of anonymity that he is currently living at his ancestral home with his family in the remote area of Thanchi upazila, Bandarban.
"We have nothing here. No electricity and no internet. So I am deprived of the online classes. It will be hard for me to keep up with my classmates who have been attending the online classes regularly," he said.
Faisal Ahmed Raj, a postgraduate student of the Economics Department at Jahangirnagar University, told this correspondent that he has all the facilities to attend the online classes. However, he said, many of his batchmates are absent from the classes due to a lack of digital facilities.
Dr Samina Lutfa, spokesperson of Bangladesh Teachers' Network, told The Business Standard that a good number of students are still not attending online classes – exposing digital discrimination.
"As per available data in our hands, the presence of students in classes is not more than 75 percent. Rather, it is sometimes 25 percent," she added.
Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said, "People in the rural and vulnerable areas are most affected by the novel coronavirus. It will increase the dropout rate in those areas."
"Students from the most disadvantaged areas like the hill-tracts and the char areas have no support to handle online education at home. So how will they cope with other challenges?" she added.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Manzoor Ahmed said the government must take initiative to eliminate all discrimination, especially in the education sector.
"The learning process should be equal for all. It will yield a bad result if a large number of students are unable to access proper facilities," he said.
Different quarters of society have been asking the government to provide free internet and digital tools for needy students. However, so far, no initiative has been taken by the government concerning this.
On Sunday, 44 national personalities urged the government to cut extra taxes on internet packages so that students can take part in the online classes at a minimal cost.
Jahurul Haque, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Commission, told The Business Standard that they will hold a meeting with top officials of the education ministry to discuss the matter of the internet package on Tuesday.
The education minister has been asking the mobile phone authorities to provide internet from their CSR funds. However, the companies have not responded yet.
Officials of mobile operator Robi said they have not received any instructions from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on providing free internet to the students. However, they have some cheaper packages for students to avail the internet.
Ankit Surekha, head of Corporate Communications, said they have not received any instructions on the issue.