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Remote working and learning should be enabled with free/low-cost hardware and software

  • Published at 08:00 pm May 10th, 2020
Laptop Table Flatlay office work remote

A guide to making work and study easier during the pandemic

It’s fair to say that the coronavirus has changed our idea of what it means to work. Large numbers of people are now working and studying from home all over the world and Bangladesh is no exception. 

The current situation of workplaces running on reduced manpower on-site with many people working from home via email and voice/video-conferencing is likely to persist for the year or so that will likely be required for a vaccine to be developed.

As a result, the choice of software in our computers is becoming more critical. Previously, offices, schools, and universities only had to worry about the provision of hardware and software on-premises, as practically all work was done on-premises.

Little thought was given to the computing resources that employees, students, and teachers might have at home. 

However, suddenly the software/hardware set-up in each person’s home has become a critical factor in getting work done.

At Kazi Farms Group, we found that a significant number of people had to be given computers to allow them to work from home remotely once lockdown began. This was enabled at minimum cost by giving them low-cost RaspberryPi computers which are available at various online outlets in Bangladesh for Tk9000 or less. 

It does require an additional computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, and cables to connect. 

But since RaspberryPi runs on the free/open-source Linux operating system which includes the LibreOffice word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software, Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email software, it is easily used by most office workers.

Marketing and graphic design people who normally use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator can accomplish much the same on a RaspberryPi with free software like Gimp and Inkscape. 

RaspberryPi’s low-cost hardware and the free Linux operating system enable this sort of solution to be installed in homes at several times lower cost than would be possible with conventional hardware and software.

The savings from using RaspberryPi/Linux over conventional PC hardware with proprietary software is even more urgent for students. 

Most professionals already have computers at home, but many students don’t. The coronavirus pandemic will have made most of their families worse off, and big investments in computer hardware and software won’t be possible for them in the short term. 

For many students, the only help they will find in studying at home may come in the form of Khan Academy videos in bangla which can be viewed on any android phone with mobile internet.

Khan Academy, while excellent, is not specifically designed to meet the needs of Bangladeshi students and syllabuses. 

So, it would be wise for the government to consider developing video lessons for each school year with experienced school teachers and putting these on the web. 

This can be done with free platforms like YouTube initially to save time, but the better long term solution is for the Ministry of Education to create its own web-based educational platform using free/open-source e-learning solutions such as Moodle which can include not only videos but also assignments and exams. 

The remarkable thing about the web is scalability; once these resources are created for a single classroom, they can become available throughout the country.

The coronavirus pandemic has already created huge losses for both Bangladesh and the world. 

Unfortunately, at the moment, it is very uncertain when things will go back to normal. We should assume normality will not return until there is a vaccine available, which is going to take time. 

So, we would do well to think about how to use technology to help us overcome the many problems that people will face working and studying during this disruption.

Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.

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