Some 23,331 public and private schools, colleges and madrasas across the country got laptops, multimedia projectors, modems and speakers from 2012 to 2015.
The education ministry distributed the digital devices at Tk300 crore under the first phase of a programme that aims at integrating ICT education in secondary and higher secondary level to better prepare the pupils for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
But a project evaluation by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) in 2018 found 97% of the digital devices were lying idle and gathering dust thanks to a serious lack of ICT educators.
Of a total 40,000 public and private schools, colleges and madrasas, 22,000 institutions were found not having a single ICT teacher, while the remaining 18,000 schools had one such educator each.
Even though the teacher shortage had been stymieing the outputs, the education ministry commissioned the second phase of the project in 2017. In the wake of "anomalies", the project was shelved in 2021.
An education ministry inquiry "found" evidence of purchasing substandard laptops and other devices.
Now the ministry looks for extending the second phase of the project, according to sources, leaving the severe teacher shortage unsettled.
1 teacher for 1,840 students!
An 11th grader of Carmichael College, Rangpur, said there is only one ICT teacher for 1,840 students of the educational institution.
"We are only taught the theories from the textbook. We do not have any practical classes," the student told The Business Standard while talking on condition of anonymity.
The Information Communication and Technology (ICT) subject was made mandatory in 2012 following the National Education Policy 2010.
Professor Md Amzad Hossain, principal of the college, said his institution needs at least four ICT teachers to take the theoretical and practical ICT classes.
He said economic, mathematics and other science teachers, with short training, are now filling in the classes.
Inadequate training, backdated syllabus
According to the authorities, the 6-12 day short ICT training for teachers only covers the basics. Some 1.50 lakh teachers across the country have received the training so far, which the experts say too "inadequate" to teach anything.
Professor Lafifa Jamal, chairperson of Robotics and Mechatronics Engineering Department at Dhaka University, told TBS that a teacher needs at least 60 days training for teaching. Anything shorter than that period will not enable the educators to deliver a quality lecture.
"Quality education mainly depends on how the teachers deliver the class lectures and demonstrate in labs," she said, also emphasising on ensuring adequate lab facilities and high-speed internet connection.
Education ministry sources said there are 4,500 Sheikh Rasel Digital Labs at secondary level institutions across the country, and another 5,000 digital labs will be set up by 2023.
The Primary and Mass Education Ministry has also set up about 60,000 multimedia classrooms across the country, but they have no designated teachers.
Apart from teachers, ensuring high-speed internet and proper lab facilities in rural areas is still a challenge for Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, students in the capital city who have access to the digital facilities said they are not satisfied with the old ICT syllabus.
"We cannot learn about new software and other updated programmes as the ICT syllabus has not been updated for a long time," said Azwad Yusha, a tenth grader at Grammar School in Dhaka's Mohammadpur.
"Our syllabus does not cover digital technology, digital literacy, social media literacy, programming and coding though these are much needed to face the future challenges," Yusha said.
The syllabus upgrade will require teachers with an academic background in information technology, and the skills to impart the knowledge to the pupils.
An increasing quality gap
According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study conducted in 2019, the country's IT sector is failing to meet the annual domestic manpower demand.
Some 7,500-8,000 new technical jobs pop up every year, while around 20,000 fresh computer science and engineering graduates enter the job market annually.
But over 80% of the fresh graduates failed to meet the recruitment standards set by the employers, according to the ADB study.
Unable to find domestic talent for mid-level skills such as testing, business analysis, and project management, Bangladesh's manufacturing industry is being forced to hire IT people from neighbouring countries at significantly higher wages.
The ADB report pointed the finger at outdated and theory-focused teaching methods, limited laboratory facilities, and limited laboratory time.
Fresh graduates even don't like teaching
According to the ADB report, the demand for quality computer engineers is high, as evidenced by a high job placement rate of 77% and initial gross monthly salary of Tk40, 000-Tk50, 000, among graduates from top nine universities in Bangladesh.
Adnan Hossain, who graduated from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology recently, was asked about taking teaching as a profession.
Adnan, who joined a multinational company soon after completing the study, said teaching does not offer a "handsome" salary and many people do not recognise the profession positively.
Fresh IT graduates also said that the long recruitment process is another key barrier deterring talented youths in pursuing teaching as a career. An IT or ICT graduate can get a job just after completing the academic study, but they have to wait at least 2-3 years to get a teaching job at public institutions.
"I completed my graduation in 2021 from Dhaka University, and now I am doing a job at an international organisation with a lucrative salary. I am not interested in teaching," a fresh computer science graduate told TBS.
After the 'system loss', now comes a catch-up plan
Md Haider Ali, a professor at the Computer Science and Engineering Department of Dhaka University, told TBS that teachers should get proper training before the schools bring in digital devices and set up multimedia classrooms.
"Without ICT teachers, we already have had a huge systems loss," he observed.
Prof Md Moshiuzzaman, member (Curriculum) and acting chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, said currently they have to rely on training the substitute teachers since the 30,000 posts of ICT educator cannot be filled up overnight.
"But, it is true that we need teachers with an ICT or IT background for the sake of quality education," he added.
On updating the syllabus, he said the board has already included digital technology, digital literacy, social media literacy, programming and coding in the new syllabus.
"We have started the ICT classes following the new syllabus at 62 secondary schools as a pilot. We trained the teachers for 3 months. We will verify the outputs and chart our next course of action accordingly," he said.
Education Minister Dipu Moni told TBS that her ministry gives the highest priority in ICT education.
We have set up computer labs at most of the institutions and the syllabus has already been updated, said the minister.
Dipu Moni said, "We have a plan to recruit ICT teachers through the Public Service Commission."