How can we ensure both quality and accessibility in online education?
Bangladesh has a constitutional obligation to uphold the right to an education; following the provision of Article 8(2) of the Constitution. Article 17 of the constitution mentions free and compulsory education.
But nowadays, our education system and all other sectors have been harshly affected due to Covid-19. In mid-March, the Bangladesh government declared that all educational institutes were to be closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among students. So, all educational institutions have been closed, thus creating great challenges for our education sector.
In our country, the rates of people infected by and dying from coronavirus are increasing day by day. Teachers, students, and all individuals at any level are at the risk of infection. Despite this, the authority has advised all concerned individuals to remain alert in dealing with Covid-19.
In recent months, many public-private universities in Bangladesh began taking online classes, which, of course, is a great thing. Additionally, some classes in primary and secondary levels are being taken by teachers via television.
It’s a good sign that policy-makers and universities are thinking about the education system, but the main question remains: “How effective is it for the students?” An online degree has never been seen as a real degree before.
Physical classes in the classroom are more effective than online classes. In online classes, teachers may not cover the syllabus according to plan. The educational institutions of Bangladesh have never faced such a disturbance in the past.
Some countries like the US, the UK, and China are examples of developed nations that are operating their e-learning systems for the students. Ensuring internet facilities and access to online course content for all students is the main concern for online education. Teachers need to make course material more accessible and effective for students.
Teachers are unable to provide lectures in online classrooms and it’s difficult to particularize teamwork for students. In regards to online teaching, poorer families suffer more -- many poor students don’t have the ability to sustainably access online education because they lack laptops and internet connections. Besides, in rural areas, modern facilities are not available. It is a big challenge for online education in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019 explains that only 37.6% of households in the country have access to the internet. It also discovered that only 5.6% of households have a computer.
But if the Ministry of Education can provide free internet facilities to all the students, online education may be an effective option. Unless this is done, poorer students will be deprived of online education.
For teachers and students, online education is a new platform for learning. For a successful class, interaction is very important. In a physical class, a teacher can run with a specific plan and interact with all the students at the same time.
Furthermore, during the lecture, students may have doubts that can be easily answered face to face, without hampering the progress of the lecture. But due to the absence of real face-to-face interaction among the teacher and the students in online classes, making online classes effective can be very challenging.
Another major obstacle to online education is the interrupted supply of electricity. In many places in our country, people have zero access to electricity. Interrupted power supply and poor power quality hamper online education. It has almost become routine that one or more students will fail to attend lectures because of electricity problems.
Online education is also more expensive compared to traditional learning. Students need to have access to smartphones or laptops, and also pay to buy enough data. Smartphone technology may be more common than it was in the past, but many poor students still cannot purchase smartphones.
At last, to overcome the challenges regarding online education, a committee should be made, including government officials, representatives from both private and public universities, and also experts from foreign universities who specialize in distance education.
Actions should be taken to bring all universities under one regulated policy. The UGC should also let students choose their credits, ensure quality controlled online courses, and recognize online degrees from approved foreign universities.
When the country overcomes the pandemic, the government should introduce online teachers’ training as soon as possible. There may be other crises in the future, and we need to prepare for those challenges that are certainly coming.
If these steps are adopted by the government and educational institutions, there will be an improvement in our overall education system.
Md Fahmedul Islam Dewan is a student of law.