"Good morning, good morning /How are you today? / I am fine, I am fine. /I wish you a good day".
A bunch of grade one children cheerfully sing the song with the teacher, as if several Mary Poppins have jumped onto the screen.
Sitting in front of the mobile or PC screen, the students then do some physical stretching and exercises and after that, the classes begin.
This is how Rowza starts her mornings nowadays. The six-year-old is a grade one student at an English medium school. She never liked waking up for school every morning in the pre-pandemic days. Now she looks forward to school.
Last August, her parents enrolled her into grade one classes at the Bangladesh Digital School (BDS) Facebook page. From then on, every Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday morning, Rowza's day starts in front of the computer as she attends classes with children from other parts of the country. The rest of the week she looks forward to Sunday.
Bangladesh Digital School is an online education platform developed by JAAGO Foundation.
The platform provides after-school academic learning support absolutely free of cost. It runs on their Facebook page.
Parents have to register through a link provided on that page. BDS is working on developing its website, which will start from February of this year.
"Most of us have the experience of strict parents and teaching environments where we would be punished and that is what compelled us to study," says BDS Programme Manager Md Kamrul Kibria Ayon, speaking about his own experiences as a student. "But here in BDS, we believe learning should be fun because it is not about the grades or the marks only, rather it is also about growing up to be a human being. School or learning space is supposed to be preparing us for the journey called life, not imprison us".
Their motto is – learning should be fun, not arbitrary. With that motto, the platform has designed its learning and course materials with interactive videos, charts, colourful diagrams, etc.
Ayon explained that the course materials are designed for different age groups and grades.
Bangladesh Digital School was a brainchild of JAAGO Foundation founder Korvi Rakshand.
In 2011, the foundation started its Digital Schooling Project in remote places of the country like Meghla in Bandarban, Teknaf, Tea Estate of Habiganj, and so on.
With a class moderator from the local community, they had established a large screen with sound systems to teach the local children through video conferencing technology.
This initiative was awarded by UNESCO in 2017 with the King Hamad Prize in ICT in Education.
Cut to 2020, the pandemic struck the education system. Schools and educational institutions have been closed for almost a year now.
The situation gave birth to a new idea. With infrastructure for online or distance learning in place, BDS started their new programme.
It started in April of last year. Initially, they started with students from grade one to grade eight. Currently, they have more than 5,000 students of these grades from almost 45 districts of the country.
Ayon informed The Business Standard that they are planning to include SSC and HSC students this year.
BDS has plans to start learning support for university admission tests and other professional job exams as well.
In a week, BDS has three classes for grades one and two and four classes for grades three to eight. To make the classes more interactive and fun, they prepare more than 30 content related to the subject which would be taught that week.
For example, last Sunday grade two was learning about food and colours. So on the screen, there was a board with colour boxes.
Students were told to choose a colour and tell the name of a fruit of that colour. Those who could answer had a virtual high-five with the teacher.
At present, BDS has 11 teachers who are trained in online teaching. Together with the content moderator team, teachers prepare the content. As the programme is getting elaborate, they are recruiting more teachers.
It is a learning process for the teachers as well.
"Online learning and classes are new for these school-going children and the parents. But we must admit, this is the future," says Sadia Rahman Sangeeta, acting course supervisor and teacher of BDS. "And whenever I see my students all prepared with their pens and papers, learning new things every day on this new platform, I feel so happy and proud. Proud of them, and of myself".
It is a learning process for the parents as well. BDS organises an online parent-teacher meeting every three months where the parents express their feedback and suggestions.
As the platform is designed to provide after-school academic learning support, the class times are scheduled keeping that in mind.
Currently, the classes start after 2pm, so that when schools will reopen, students can join them after school. And BDS is working to start it from 6pm.
Ayon said, "We sometimes forget that children are also human beings. They need rest after a long day at school. That is why we are planning to start at a time when they would feel refreshed and are rested enough to study more."
According to the BDS team, it is a relief for the parents as well. "The private tuition culture of our country is a billion-taka business. Besides the fee, there is transportation, security issues, food and if it is admission preparation, the residence fee adds to the cost. But BDS is giving the same service where students can get after-school support at home," he said.
And that is something the team is working on. They have plans to incorporate special support opportunities where each student will be able to get individual study support.
For that, parents have to register and buy a subscription from the website. The price will be monthly Tk250 per subject. The subscription can be bought monthly or even for individual classes.
For online education, the Internet is one of the biggest issues. Before starting BDS, the foundation had analysed data from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Grameenphone, and other mobile operator companies.
From the data, they found that currently, almost 60% of the country's population has access to mobile phones, computers, and other devices to participate in online video conferences.
And Bangladesh has 100% coverage for 3G internet networks. With that information, the foundation started reaching out to those who use the Internet regularly.
They also reached out to people through Facebook and other social media platforms.
If the students are unable to participate in Zoom classes or Google classroom, the class lectures are recorded and the videos are uploaded on the BDS Facebook page from where students can watch and download them.
To reach more people and more students, the BDS team is working on expanding the spectrum. For that, they are planning to build a partnership with BTRC and other mobile phone operators of the country.
The pandemic has uncovered a lot of potential from the present generation. It has taken a lot, but opened up a lot of opportunities as well. Bangladesh Digital School (BDS) recognised that opportunity and decided to make use of it.
As Ayon explained, "The children are also getting prepared for the future. It is a great opportunity for us to show them the potential of technology. It is not just for grown-ups or for wasting our time. If we can pass on this idea to them, I am sure soon we would not have to worry about them excessively indulging in devices and technology."