Access to technology for education should be one of our top priorities
According to the World Bank, for every five months of school closures due to Covid-19, the world may face $10 trillion of lost income. Without education, children will not learn the necessary skills to join the workforce and without adequate employment, they will not have disposable income to spend on goods and services which our economies depend on. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable GDP growth of 6% annually for the past decade; however, this will not continue if we do not invest in our students who will be our future consumers.
While some may argue that there are many other areas of concern for the country, access to technology for education should be one of our main priorities.
The success of the government’s rapid shift to distance learning will be even greater if access to devices and connectivity in Bangladesh can be increased. Education has been delivered through television during the current school closures, but only 43.9% of the rural population and 74.2% of the urban population own television sets.
Moreover, only 37.6% of people nationally have internet access. The cost of connectivity and the price of devices limit the utility of technology-based distance learning as well. Internet access is still unaffordable for most, with Bangladesh ranked 41st out of 66 countries surveyed in 2018 based on monthly internet affordability.
Similarly, while there is widespread access to phones, with 166 million mobile phone subscriptions in Bangladesh in 2020 and an average of 1.49 SIM cards per user, approximately 50 million people still do not own phones.
Our government has wisely prioritized Digital Bangladesh and now, we need to give it a boost by investing in technological infrastructure, digital literacy, and education technology initiatives. Further investment in technology infrastructure for wider access to connectivity, lowering cost of devices, and affordable internet is paramount.
Firstly, we need our infrastructure to ensure connectivity in both rural and urban areas as well as uninterrupted power supply for our students to learn efficiently. Secondly, the import duty on devices should be lowered in order for devices to be more cost-effective for the masses.
Additionally, we still haven’t attained the UN Broadband Commission recommendation of 1GB mobile data costing less than 2% of average monthly income, meaning mobile internet is still not within the financial reach for most. Thus, we need to push for lowering the cost of the internet so that the many education programs that require data can be accessed by students.
Finally, technology without usability is of limited value. We must invest in digital literacy programs that teach the populace how to effectively use the internet. A national ICT household survey found that the lack of technical know-how was the main reason for lower use of the internet in Bangladesh even among those with access to the internet.
As such, funding and implementing programs to teach people how to use their devices and the internet for educational purposes is key.
Covid-19 has changed the way we learn and forced us to acknowledge the efficacy of technological initiatives. Organizations that deliver education through technology need our support so that they can create and implement the best possible educational outcomes for our learners and future consumers.
Companies can consider allocating some of their annual CSR budgets to supporting these sorts of technology initiatives. Learning has a profound impact on human lives and our future economy. A “wait and see” approach could have costly consequences if we do not actively prevent future damage. Let’s raise awareness, take action, and invest in our learners so that our actions today save our future tomorrow.
Amreen Bashir is a Bangladeshi/American educator who is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Education Policy at Harvard University. She is the Head of Curriculum at CholPori and an expert consultant with the Edtech Hub.