COVID-19 and need for online education in BD
I had to leave my Masters Course, forced to come back to my homeland within a day's notice, as the Tamil Nadu government announced to close down educational institutions in the wake of COVID-19. The day when I got my flight ticket, the most important 'Multimedia' module of the third term was yet to finish. I was anxious whether I would engage well but my experienced professor assured me along with the whole group that he would finish the module by online classes which were going to be more interesting and fun.
My mind was agitated still as I was bothered with doubts regarding the extent of the module and my abilities of understanding since my grades depended on the assignments which I had to submit after the module. Nevertheless, my professor made the module very convenient for us which made me feel lucky that I was living in the digital era. It has been over four months (December 2019) since the first case of coronavirus emerged in Wuhan. A month thereafter, the World Health Organisation declared the virus a 'pandemic' across the world. Scientists and public health experts named it COVID-19 with symptoms similar to pneumonia but there's still more about the virus they don't know.
So far there has been no news about the invention of a COVID-19 vaccine. At present, the whole world is under lockdown except for few countries. International transport, commerce and business remain suspended in the country. Similarly, the question also focuses on the time required to 'flatten the curve'. Bangladesh announced its lockdown from March 26 to May 5th.
For the second phase, the closure extended till the Eid-ul-Fitr vacation. Some sectors like banks, ministries and media organisations minimized their office hours to work-from-home. Obviously, there is no doubt all these steps have been taken for the sake of the future, but what about the present? When the rest of the world has been conducting online classes, engaging students with home tasks in the pursuit to adopt tech classrooms, Bangladesh extended its closure period without any plan. Some Private universities are scrambling to finish their course online. On March 23, the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh asked all universities to conduct online classes by using their 'Zoom Application' in a statement. According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) website, a total number of Mobile phone subscribers in the country has reached 157.544 million at the end of January 2019. The number of mobile phone internet users have grown to 80.47 million in 2018. Similarly, there were 5,735 million broadband connections in the same year.
Our prime minister, Sheikh Hasina always claimed that in the last ten and half years her government has transformed the country into a Digital Bangladesh by making information technology accessible to Bangladeshis including marginal people through efficient and service-oriented Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
The telecom operators have been offering new internet packages for their subscribers every week. If the BTRC data shows Bangladesh is in a satisfactory position on internet subscription, why aren't students-teachers interested in an online class? I talked to a few teachers from a public university who stated that financial problems, weak internet and lack of technical experience acted as setbacks for online classes. I discussed the issue with my professor who made a few sticking points to rethink the situation. Firstly, online or virtual classes are futuristic and they will eventually become an integral part of education at all levels. It's particularly relevant for developing countries like Bangladesh which faces other natural calamities like cyclones and floods, often resulting in schools getting cut off. Secondly, it may sound like a luxury in the beginning. But, in this regard telecom regulatory agencies can play a key role in regulating tariffs. Perhaps, telecom providers can offer low internet charges for educational programmes with government subsidies. Thirdly, Government agencies and departments like education, IT and telecom should partner with service providers to facilitate online classes.
His last solution surprised me contrary to my understanding of students losing out on online classes. He found students more engaging and interactive in virtual classes because they feel more comfortable in their own space at home. A virtual environment in education can help students shed their inhibitions and become more proactive in learning. People are struggling to adjust with the habit of a new lifestyle including social distance, work from home, less shopping, and interacting with family members. This change will have a long effect on humans post COVID-19 world.
To tackle the upcoming economic recession, digital transition and e-commerce markets are booming and undoubtedly, the next world will be based on digital platforms. The demand for skilled professionals will rise and online courses with remote discussions will need more digital content, which will become a matter of concern for developing countries like Bangladesh. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be extensive and required in many applications, including journalism, automobiles, health service, agro-based production while all national-international businesses will extraordinarily use AI for their efficiency and cost-cutting practice. If Bangladesh is not mature enough to take immediate decisions for handling lockdown situations, then students and the education sector might suffer most compared to any other sector in the future. The country has to concentrate on proper digitalization and find the dots to fix up errors rather than showing off. We have been compelled to think a different world for the generation of the future as the present pandemic has caught everyone in the grip of its ravaging effects.
The writer is journalist