Some years ago, after visiting one of their schools in Dhaka and being very impressed, I wrote a column about Agami, a non-profit organisation based in California dedicated to improving education for the underprivileged in Bangladesh.
This week I decided to pay a visit to Agami's Dhaka office to find out more about the group's work with Khan Academy, the globally recognised source of educational videos on the Internet, much loved by students, that was started by Bangladeshi-American Salman Khan.
The Khan Academy videos were, initially, only in English, making them inaccessible for the vast majority of our Bangla-speaking pupils. This project has changed that.
I spoke with Dilruba Chowdhury, their coordinator, as well as project staff Fazle Rabbi, Marjuk Ahmed and Iffat Naomee. They lead the team which has worked on translating Khan Academy educational tools to Bangla since 2015.
Thanks to Agami's work, Fazle said, Khan Academy's website now has a Bangla section with over 1200 of their educational videos translated into Bangla. During our meeting, I accessed these videos at bn.khanacademy.org and watched an explanation of fractions. The translation work required, among other things, “localising” 3 million functional English terms to Bangla .
Having videos is part of a complete educational package, Dilruba explained. In addition to the instructional content, Khan Academy offers two other tools: exercises for students, and a dashboard for teachers to instantly assess their students' learning in real-time. No teacher wants to leave a child behind, but using traditional methods, it is often too late by the time a teacher discovers that a student is struggling with a certain concept. With instant feedback from the Khan Academy dashboard, teachers can take timely remedial action.
Along with the videos, Agami has also translated the associated exercises and dashboard functionality to Bangla, offering a complete platform for learning in Bangla.
How about taking this to our schools? Agami is working with schools to help deploy these tools. So far, twenty schools (most without Internet) have been given the Bangla videos. Three schools in Dhaka have adopted the Khan Academy platform into their teaching methodology. Working closely with them, Agami is finding the best ways of integrating these tools into teaching in a large number of schools.
Marjuk points out these tools do not replace traditional teaching methods. Rather, they embellish them. There is another advantage from the teacher's perspective. The government has set goals for teachers to use more digital technology in teaching. Using these tools will empower the teachers to reach these goals.
Another issue is curriculum. Do Khan Academy videos, which were initially designed for American schools, match the topics covered in our schools? Iffat is working on this matching problem: how to map the Khan Academy topics to our schools curricula. With very few exceptions (for example, arithmetic problems related to currency exchange) our curricula are well-covered by the existing videos.
The goal of the team is to create a complete package of the topics, their exercises and the dashboards – all of them matching our schools curricula – by the end of this year.
Khan Academy Bangla – the name of this Agami project – has been supported by funds from three sources: Government of Bangladesh, Grameenphone, and Agami's fund-raising activities in the United States. The organisation is considering more fund-raising activities – such as crowd-funding – here in Bangladesh. Such a worthy and well-conceived project deserves our wholehearted support.