The prolonged countrywide shutdown measures following the Covid-19 pandemic has left students and other stakeholders affiliated with the education sector facing severe consequences.
As a damage control policy, online education was introduced in emergency response.
To help the students continue their education, educational institutions are trying their best to reach out to students through different mediums, including television, radio, and social media platforms like Facebook, Zoom, Google classroom, Google meet etc.
Online education provides a healthy routine in a comfortable environment, but not everyone in Bangladesh can afford it.
This begsthe question about how well students and teachers of a developing country like Bangladesh can adapt to this new method.
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, in his budget speech, pointed out that 40 million students are not being able to continue regular academic curriculums across Bangladesh.
To take part in online education, students need at least a smartphone and a stable internet connection. The latest 2020 data of HIES (Household Income and Expenditure Survey) showed that around 12.70 percent of the poor families do not have a single mobile phone.
Rural and underprivileged urban areas are at a disadvantage while accessing ICT platfoms, compared to the more privileged urban areas. As a result, the digital divide will increase the unequal distribution of learning even more.
In light of this, South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) held a webinar about how the alternative learning policies are not reaching every student.
Due to the prolonged shutdowns, families are facing a severe financial crisis and are unable of supporting their children's education.
SANEM estimated that 43.90 percent of the students' families could fall victim to poverty (for primary: 51.70 percent, secondary: 42.40 percent; SSC/HSC: 30.20 per cent; and university: 19.0 percent); forcing 7.70 million additional students' families to enter poverty.
As a negative coping strategy, students from unprivileged families are likely to drop out for good, which will then lead to higher child marriage, early pregnancy and child labour.
A survey conducted by BioTED, a novel training and research initiative, revealed that 55 percent students do not have proper internet connections.
In order to attend classes regularly, a student needs to spend at least 300 MB to 1 GB data per day. This being a costly procedure, many students are being deprived of learning opportunities.
Furthermore, presuming it to be a general holiday, many students returned to their village homes without their books and notes. Therefore, a majority of them are not being able to participate in virtual classes. Moreover, many remote areas lack proper electricity supply and internet infrastructure which has a detrimental effect on the students living there.
In addition to that, students have concerns and suffer from anxiety attacks relating to proper understanding of online lectures, stable internet connection during virtual classes and exams and overall output through this alternative method.
In order to conduct online lectures, teachers must have practical knowledge of online teaching methods and resources. However, most of the primary school teachers of Bangladesh are struggling with this issue. In the rural areas, most of the teachers do not even own a smart phone. Therefore, not just the students, the teachers are also in a precarious situation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost every part of the education sector, from primary schools to the university level. The government of Bangladesh should give immediate attention to improving the online education system.
The government should also increase the budget allotment for the education sector and consider subsidising the sector to provide smartphones to unprivileged students.
Professor Selim Raihan of the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka suggested that primary school teachers' salaries should be increased to attract more efficient teachers.
Unicef is already working with the government and using television and radio programmes to provide remote learning in the unprivileged areas.
To ensure effective learning, as suggested by western academics, the approach of "Flipped Classroom Theory" can be applied to this case where teachers will upload the video lectures beforehand in platforms like google classroom and students will see the lectures and understand the topics themselves.
Then the teachers will hold an interactive session live through social media and discuss students' queries. This will turn passive learning into active learning and will improve the quality of education.
Therefore, mobile network companies may launch student friendly education packages with better mobile data facilities at a cheaper rate. Furthermore, the government should implement new policies to decrease the call rate per minute so that the students can collect notes from their classmates through phone calls as well.
According to the Harrod-Domar Growth model of development economic theory, investment helps replace worn-out capital and leads to economic growth.
Here, the current ineffective education system can be thought of as worn-out capital and if proper investment, aka government spending, is increased in this sector, a more effective approach can be constructed which will ensure economic growth.
This economic growth will not just be a result of RMG exports but will also be driven by the human capital of future generations. The more efficient our education system is, the smarter our students will become and they are the very people who will play a crucial role in determining this country's future.
Therefore, a collaborative approach between the government, NGOs and other stakeholders is necessary. Otherwise, Bangladesh's demographic dividend will turn into a demographic liability.
Samiha Binte Tariq is a full time Research Assistant in the Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University and also is a Master student of Development Studies at Dhaka University and Tasnia Fami is an elementary teacher at Marie Curie School, Dhaka and also is a Master student of Development Studies at University of Dhaka.