Adopting digital online education in Bangladesh
Illustration: Biplob Chakroborty
Illustration: Biplob Chakroborty
A few months ago, while I was sitting at a train station for the bus service in Queensland, Australia, I received a phone call. The caller told me, “I’m calling from Harvard University. Do you want to enroll in the online cybersecurity program that interests you? And continued to give me more details. I was a little surprised to receive this call. Likewise, I was interested in the online Master of Science in Data Analytics from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and their education advisor contacted me several times a month. Later, I started my second Masters in Online Data Analysis at Georgia Institute of Technology, USA while residing in Australia.
It used to be that people went to universities to study, but now the motive has partially changed and universities are approaching people with a diverse set of education programs. This is called digital online education. Bangladesh has made remarkable digital progress in different sectors, but not as much as expected in digital online education. The country has yet to make its mark in the global online education industry, which is estimated to be worth $ 375 billion by 2026. It could easily be the third largest source of income after remittances. and the garment industry if this sector is given due importance and carefully designed policies. Now is the time for our policymakers to rethink digital online education policy and enable leading institutions to excel in today’s transnational education system as a brand of education in Bangladesh.
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Let’s start by understanding digital learning, which can be defined as any type of learning that is accompanied by ICT or an educational practice that makes effective use of it. From this perspective, blended or online learning can also be called digital learning, as this type of learning is not possible without ICT. However, the transition from traditional face-to-face to online education is not an easy journey for many institutions around the world during the pandemic – a bunch of challenges in terms of digital skills, pedagogical knowledge, psychosocial counseling, varying levels of interaction. , engagement and evaluation strategies, support structures, etc. need to be integrated into institutional policies and practices. Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions have failed to adapt to these challenges to some extent, but have often attributed this failure to digital online education. What are the main reasons for this?
The first is opposition to the idea of “learning to unlearn”. Harvard University Professor Chris Dede attended a summit at Daffodil University in March 2021 and informed the public that learning to unlearn is the world’s biggest challenge in transforming education digitally. Human beings always oppose cultures to which they are not accustomed. Since the beginning of civilization, teachers have become accustomed to traditional face-to-face teaching. It is not easy to move away from it overnight and learn new ways of teaching-learning.
The second obstacle is the low speed of the Internet. This is the question that largely affects the wide acceptance and implementation of digital education in developing and least developed countries. Bangladesh ranked 134th in the world for mobile speeds and 96th for fixed broadband speeds in May 2021. The country’s broadband internet density is quite low, although narrowband mobile internet has penetrated. most parts of the country. However, the internet speed is moderately low and not at all satisfactory to operate digital education. A minimum stable 3G Internet must be ensured throughout the country.
Then there is a negative perception of the community – people often perceive that digital online education is unnecessary and that it is possible to get certificates without any study. While pursuing my second online master’s degree, I found it more difficult to perform well. Certainly, the problem is not with digital online education but rather with the reliability of the provider. The online degrees provided by Stanford University will not be the same as Stamford University.
Socio-economic conditions also play a role here. Studies show that only 10-15% of university students have laptops or PCs in Bangladesh. Due to the pandemic, many parents have been made redundant, students have lost part-time jobs and female students have been forced to face the scourge of early marriage. This situation is further compounded by the high cost of a fairly poor Internet. Government support is urgently needed to overcome this situation.
The lack of a genuine exam system in online education is another big challenge, leading to a poor perception of the community. Reputable universities focus largely on formative assessment instead of summative exams and only consider a few courses (two to three out of 12) of a program for formal exams. Research indicates that over 90 percent of students have at least one Android device in Bangladesh. So, online exam monitoring on mobile could be a viable solution.
Another challenge is the lack of a suitable software solution and relevant human resources. We grew up using pirated software and are often reluctant to invest money for appropriate software. The country’s two main universities only provided institutional emails to their students last year. The situation is deteriorating further due to a lack of skilled manpower for 24/7 maintenance and support.
Then there is the problem of the lack of commitment to accountability. Digital online education creates proof of work digitally. Thus, if we can guarantee the responsibility of teachers to submit a monthly report through Smart Education, such as software with an eight to ten aspect rubric including student feedback, research, professional training, engagement of students, overall presentation, etc., this can result in a better quality education than what we do in traditional face-to-face learning.
However, there is a pressing need for a support structure. Since we haven’t made much progress in digital education, there are some things that haven’t been introduced yet, like learning designers and technologists. Learning designers sit down with the course teacher and design the course with results-based education, presentation, interactive videos, and assessment in mind, while technologists learning organize the course in the learning management system and provide the necessary training for teachers and students. In their absence, teachers find conducting online courses a relatively difficult task.
Reluctance to continue professional development is another fact. There is no alternative to continuing professional development to reduce the gap between industrial and academic practices, as well as to develop professional ethics. Unfortunately, our teachers are very reluctant in this regard, and it should be included in the annual raise and / or promotion provisions.
Finally, the lack of enforceable policies and visible practices hinders the development of online education in Bangladesh. The University Grants Commission recently launched the National Framework for Blended Learning to help further our education digitally. Tracking university compliance requirements with transparency, especially for online digital learning, is key to ensuring quality education.
Now that all walks of life in Bangladesh understand the importance of digital online learning, we must take advantage of it. If online education is understood appropriately, we won’t have to interrupt education, teachers won’t have to look for odd jobs for their survival, and students won’t feel depressed. The world is becoming more and more digital, and educational institutions that cannot embrace digitization will be gradually excluded. The sooner we realize this, the better.
Dr Md Aktaruzzaman is a digital education expert and director of the Blended Learning Center at Daffodil International University, Dhaka, and founding director of the ICT and education departments at Bangabandhu Digital University. Email: [email protected]