Covid-19 is affecting every sector of the economy, from business to education to sports. Education is one of the worst hit sectors..
Students from all levels are having serious difficulty in making the ends meet as they can hardly earn any money from part time work or from private tuitions.
In order to continue their studies, they have to buy internet packages because distance learning is the only means of education during this pandemic. But at this time when families are losing jobs and struggling to manage day to day living costs, bearing expenses to buy internet package is difficult for the majority of students. If they don't find the money, they are going to fall behind.
Access to the internet has yet to be ensured for people from all walks of life. According to Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019, only 5.6 percent of households own a computer and around 37 percent have access to internet at home.
Who needs to come forward to save the future leaders? Well, government alone can do nothing unless the corporate sector plays a significant role in this regard. Among private organisations, one of the few companies that are least affected by the pandemic is the telecommunication sector; combined with pharmaceuticals.
According to a report, mobile operators continue to make huge profit despite the spike in the coronavirus outbreak. As revealed by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the total number of subscribers to the country's three private mobile phone operators — Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink — increased by 30.63 lakh in July.
The increase in subscription for Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink was by 15.53 lakh, 11.23 lakh, and 3.87 lakh respectively in July.
According to another report, Banglalink's mobile data revenue has seen 30 percent growth recently. If the mobile operator having the lowest increase in subscription in July can manage 30 percent growth in mobile data revenue, the rest of the operators having more subscribers will definitely profit much more than this. Hence, mobile phone operators have much to do to take care of students during this unprecedented crisis.
They could offer free data for students or data packages with minimum cost, for example. Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN) sent a letter to all mobile operators requesting it to offer internet services to university students free of cost on July 21. While Teletalk responded positively, no other telecom companies seem to be willing to extend support for virtual learning for the students amidst this crisis.
Teletalk stood up for pupils by announcing a month of internet at Tk100 for university students. Unfortunately, the network of this mobile operator is not so widespread that students from remote corners would be benefitted. That's why collaboration from the rest of the mobile operators is essential for reducing academic loss of the students.
But what bars the top three operators from lending a hand to students at this critical period? Is it lack of profit or lack of willingness? Apparently, considering their revenue as mentioned above, it is the latter. Spending on the students, in a sense, is an investment for sustainable Bangladesh.
Covid-19 is one of the most difficult challenges we've encountered in the last 50 years. This has to be handled with united effort from the public and private sector.
If we look at other companies around the world, Cisco has donated $225 million in cash to combat the spread of coronavirus, Amazon has donated $5 million grants in the Seattle area to help small businesses bounce back, and Jack Ma, the CEO of Chinese e-commerce and cloud computing giant Alibaba, has donated emergency supplies such as 1.8 million masks, 210,000 test kits, 36,000 protective suits, plus ventilators and thermometers to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka, according to a report published in Fortune.
If I consider Bangladesh, the donation of cricketers like Mushfiqur Rahim, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Mahmudullah Riyadh, Momunul Haque, Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan among others are remarkable. Each of them has contributed significantly to help the people during these dark times.
According to a report, four banks—Premier Bank, Mercantile Bank, United Commercial bank and NRB Commercial bank—have donated Tk15.2 crores to PM's relief fund to slow down the outbreak. It is obviously praiseworthy. Nevertheless, it is not enough, because with no signs of slowing down, coronavirus has already claimed over 5000 lives and has Infected over 353,844 people in Bangladesh.
If the educational institutions are not reopening until October, students will have spent 26 weeks away from schools and universities, relying only on online education. That is why, mobile phone operators have a significant role to play in keeping education moving for millions of disadvantaged students of Bangladesh. Unless students are properly supported in this difficult times, the likelihood of their failure, increased unemployment, learning loss, increased dropout, higher inequality cannot be brushed aside.
Mahde Hassan is pursuing his bachelor's degree in English at East West University.