According to a report of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), 56 percent of secondary students were absent from online classes. Moreover, during the Covid-19 enforced closure of educational institutions, 87 percent of the students did not show any interest in the supplementary classes aired on Sangsad TV.
On the other hand, online educational platforms in Bangladesh have seen exponential growth in the last two years. This phenomenon is attributed to the pandemic, with offline classes and exams switching on and off.
Ayman Sadiq, the founder and CEO of 10 Minute School (10MS), spoke to The Business Standard about why brick-and-mortar educational institutions failed to attract students to online classes while edtech platforms thrived.
According to a recent report from the DSHE, 56 percent of school students did not participate in online classes. The report also stated that 87 percent of students had no interest in the classes telecasted on TV. Why do you think public and mainstream institutions have failed to make a strong impact?
One of the predominant reasons is that most Bangladeshi students either do not have smartphones or high-speed internet; or neither. As far as I know about the current statistics, smartphone and internet penetration is only around 40 percent.
If the stat bears any truth, more than half of the students are not getting access by default. Moreover, the cost of the internet is quite high, and broadband facilities do not cover rural areas. In my opinion, mobile data is excessively pricey.
One has to take into account these macroeconomic factors before assessing the state of online education in Bangladesh.
For example, when Jio launched its telecommunication services in India, including broadband, television and telephone services, the internet and market penetration saw revolutionary change. Digital services' growth skyrocketed as Jio provided internet and smartphones at very low prices.
Unless this kind of industry-wide change occurs in Bangladesh, most students will remain out of the purview of online education.
It is not like we [Edtech platforms] conjured up something new all of a sudden when the pandemic hit. Rather, our platforms have been doing this for a long time. Subsequently, we have a competitive advantage. We are well aware of the processes of how to teach students online.
To speak of 10MS, we have seven years of experience. We have structured it through the standard operating procedure (SOP). Naturally, we are more efficient.
How do you think edtech platforms like 10 Minute School can collaborate with mainstream educational institutions in the future? Do you have any such plans?
We have worked with the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) on multiple projects. In particular, we wanted to build a learning management system.
For instance, we already had an app through which we were training employees from different companies. We have several corporate clients such as Unilever, IDLC etc.
We actually suggested something like this to BUP. Specifically, we suggested a model where we can arrange course-wise videos where teachers can take classes and evaluate students. But for some reason, the project did not go much further.
Actually, the university is a big institution and making so many changes was difficult.
And more importantly, taking online examinations is a complicated task. You can not just give out degrees online without due process. From a Bangladeshi perspective, the mechanism [required to sustain online degrees] has not advanced enough.
In many countries, degrees are given online. But this [process or system] did not take off in Bangladesh. Moreover, the University Grants Commission (UGC) does not permit online-based degrees. Universities are not comfortable to do so either.
For the same reason, there are no university-level ed-techs in Bangladesh such as Coursera or edX. Even India has university-level ed-tech such as Upgrad. We do not have that ecosystem. The scope of providing an institution-based degree online is very limited.
We have also collaborated on some government initiatives where we provided technical support with many of the videos being shot in our studio.
What was the trajectory of edtech during the pandemic? Learning from the pandemic experience, what would you recommend to the traditional institutions?
The pandemic associated lockdowns and the closure of educational institutions have led to the growing popularity of edtech platforms in Bangladesh.
We have seen a big change in parents' perceptions regarding learning online.
Even before the Covid-19, 10MS had thousands of students countrywide. And millions of people knew about us.
But their parents still looked at us suspiciously. They were concerned about the usefulness of online-based courses.
The pandemic has changed the context. Now the parents are aware of our method: live and interactive classes, regular quizzes, in-depth notes. And there is a growing acceptance amongst the parents about online education platforms.
Yes, the number of students has definitely increased over the pandemic period. But I think the most important thing the pandemic has contributed to is the high acceptance of our platforms.
Secondly, teachers and students had to cope with a new learning and teaching system. So there was a learning curve on both ends.
When there is a big and radical jump from one system to another, it is always the younger generations who can better deal with it. Gen Z already knows how to use technology.
But the experience is not the same for the teachers. In many respects, the failure to adapt to a new system led to unattractive teaching modules and overall uninteresting classes.
When I was taking online classes and making videos, I used to watch a lot of other courses from top-notch content makers. I always strived to do better.
Whether it is online or offline, teaching is an art. And one has to continuously learn the different methods of teaching.
10MS has raised $2 million in funding from Surge, Sequoia Capital India's rapid scale-up programme, as the first major edtech company in the country to do so. Can you tell us more about the fundraising experience and how you plan to utilise the opportunity?
While we are also talking with other big investors, Sequoia Capital is one of the top five VC [Venture Capital] firms worldwide. So, getting funding from them would open other doors for us and other platforms too. I think overall the whole startup ecosystem will also be benefited.
In the past seven to eight years, I have thought about nothing but 10 Minute School. Although there was a desire to do a lot more, it could not be done for a long time, because there were no funds available.
Many plans materialised halfway and stopped. Whenever something like that happened I always thought to myself that I could have followed through only if I had some money. The last year has been spent on fundraising to fulfil those unfulfilled desires.
This whole time I was actually a little deprived from many things. Now that money has become available with everyone's cooperation, it is time to make those unfulfilled dreams a reality.
We have not been able to make 3D videos yet. Now we want to make 3D videos on all the difficult topics. Moreover, we want to set up a research and development lab, where we will always work on new products.