Affordable online learning to ensure efficient human capital for future | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:02 AM, October 04, 2020

Affordable online learning to ensure efficient human capital for future

Bangladesh, the world's eighth most populous country, has a very youthful population with currently about 34 per cent being under the age of 15.

The country's population pyramid is a clear indication of its possibilities for future economic growth, which has a strong correlation with human capital.

Human capital is a key factor behind sustained economic growth and poverty reduction for many nations in the 21st century, the World Bank said in a statement.

Theodore William Schultz, a famous American Nobel Laureate for economics, once said there are five ways to develop human capital, of which the most effective is education.

Over the last two decades, the government has consistently improved upon this sector as Bangladesh's human development index (HDI) has gone from 0.39 to 0.61, a 58.3 per cent increase, between 1990 and 2018.

However, the country still ranks below Sri Lanka, India and Bhutan on this index.

In 2020, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic created the biggest disruption to the education system in history but developed countries fared better in this aspect compared developing nations.

Currently, there are 3.6 million students out of school and in light of the situation, the government introduced online admissions for HSC students and completed the process by September 17.

This year, a total of 1.69 million students passed the SSC or equivalent examinations while about 1.40 million applied for college.

Secondary education creates a bridge that ensures regularity and continuity for further education and this stage is crucial for any student given that it is a part of developing human capital.

To make the government's target to introduce distance learning for HSC students from October onwards a reality, a combined effort is needed to ensure that online classes are held routinely and effectively.

As per the statistics from a couple of years ago, 26 to 28 per cent of all HSC students dropped out of school for numerous reasons but mainly due to financial constraints.

It is well known that Covid-19 has had significantly adverse impacts on the employment and income levels among medium and low-income groups.

So under these circumstances, the government should provide special financial support for the education sector and recommend full waivers for college admission fees, monthly tuition and other costs according to a student's needs.

Online education is actually more expensive than traditional learning in Bangladesh as a student needs to have a suitable electronic device, such as a smartphone or laptop, along with strong internet connectivity to attend virtual classes.

Since many students do not have the financial capacity to buy the required devices, the government, its development partners and business houses should come forward to lend their support in this regard.

By simply owning a computer, a student can avail hundreds of skill development programmes and besides, this also accelerates digital inclusion.

Internet connectivity is another must-have for distance learning but here in Bangladesh, the speed of internet connections is inadequate while the costs are too high.

Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and all local mobile network operators should work together to improve the quality of connection speeds and provide free internet data for online classes.

Success in higher education is commonly defined by a student's persistence, progression and timely graduation. Scholarships that assist or cover the cost of pursuing a higher education provide a number of benefits.

In the current scenario, the government, alongside various reputed business organisations, should actively contribute financial aid for those seeking higher education and allocate disbursements based on a student's needs as well as merit.

On top of that, Bangladesh Bank and other financial institutions can play an active role as well by creating an interest free education loan product.

To manage the disbursement of such micro funds would be the biggest challenge but all you need is the right platform and the good news is, we already have one as bKash, in association with City Bank, recently launched the country's first collateral-free instant digital loan product through mobile wallet.

Online learning and teaching is a completely new dimension in Bangladesh and educators need to have additional skills, such as digital literacy.

Some have already declared online classes to be less effective than its physical counterpart but to address this issue, effective measures, initiatives and road maps are a must.

Before that though, the first and most important thing to do is to draft a definite and comprehensive guideline on online learning for both the institutions themselves and their teachers.

As per the renowned American writer and founding father Johan Adams, 'Teacher is a maker of man, he is the foundation of all education and thus, of the whole civilisation of mankind, present and future. No nation's reconstruction is possible without the active cooperation of the teacher'.

Aside from government and a very few private colleges, the country's remaining educational institutions are registering limited revenues amid the ongoing pandemic and have even faced difficulties to pay their teachers' salaries on time.

Under these circumstances, it will be even more difficult for teachers and other faculty members to own a sufficient digital device and internet connection. Therefore, the government and various college governing bodies should find a way to provide digital devices and bear all other related costs to online learning to make the initiative a success.

Here in Bangladesh, many students need to work to support their families and due to this pandemic, their numbers will only increase.

Some students may fail to attend online classes or may not have the same merits as others, so the classes should be archived so that the video recordings can help them attain a better understanding.

To facilitate this, there should be a national level archive platform that also features digital textbooks so that students facing financial constraints are not hard pressed to purchase learning materials.

Examinations play an important role in e-learning and provides an array of benefits for both the learner and instructor.

And thus, several types of testing modules, such as planned and surprise monthly, quarterly and half-yearly quizzes should be structured in a way that encourages learners to think back on course materials rather than looking for answers elsewhere.

All of us want to know when the coronavirus crisis will come to an end and when life will return to normalcy but it is probably safe to say we are still nowhere near the end. Recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also asked all concerned to stay prepared as the Covid-19 situation may worsen in winter.

As a proactive measure, the education board needs to take preparation from now regarding at which modality the year end and the final HSC examinations will take place.

Finally, the media can play an important role in enlightening and educating people. Apart from our national assembly session, the state-owned Sangsad Television can be used as full time education broadcast channel.

On top of that we have 30 private TV channels and if each channel telecasts educational shows for at least one hour each day then it adds up to 30 hours per day total and in this crisis, they should come forward to help our nation.

Business organisations should extend their hand for cost sharing. Print media should print more articles related to this issue, mainly to attract the attention of concerned stakeholders. Radios should also air educational programmes.

Digital Bangladesh is one of the nation's dreams and over the last couple of years, Bangladesh has remarkable achievement in different sectors for digitalization but little has been done so far for the education sector, mainly digital teaching, and this pandemic has opened up an opportunity for nationwide inclusion of digital learning.


The author is the head of supply chain and procurement at bKash

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