Cost of Online Classes: Extra burden on parents, teachers
Though it meant an extra Tk 700 per month, Mahmuda Khatun had to get broadband connection at her house for her child, a second grader of Monipur School and College.
The school has introduced online classes during the pandemic to continue their academic activities.
Beside the monthly fee, Mahmuda had to pay Tk 3,000 for the router and the connection, which she said is relatively cheaper than mobile internet data packages.
"This is a burden added during a pandemic when we are grappling with household expenditure," she said.
Sabrina Islam Bonna, who uses mobile internet data to attend her university classes online, echoed Mahmuda's chagrin.
The Jahangirnagar university student said she needs to use two to three gigabytes of data, costing her Tk 114, to attend online classes for two days.
An undergraduate student of United International University shared the same problem. "Usually, tuition fees are high at private universities. Now this expenses over online education has added to my financial pressure."
A teacher of Mohammadpur Government High School also had to get broadband internet connection at home and buy a whiteboard to take online classes during the pandemic.
"The high cost of data plans, needed for online learning, is putting extra financial burden on the parents as well as on us," the teacher said, wishing anonymity.
Education of about four crore students in the country, from primary to university level, has been affected due to the pandemic as they cannot attend in-person classes since all the institutions were closed on March 17 to stem Covid-19.
Currently, many institutions are offering online classes, mostly through social media sites.
Yet, online education remains inaccessible to many, mainly in rural areas.
Besides the cost, the speed of mobile internet connection, while moderate in urban areas, is quite poor in most rural locations, where broadband providers are almost absent.
CALL FOR AFFORDABLE INTERNET
Public and private universities are calling for affordable mobile internet packages for their students.
On June 15, the Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh (APUB) in a letter to Post and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar demanded special internet packages for private university students.
Vice-chancellors of most public universities made a similar request at a meeting with the University Grants Commission on June 25.
Five days later, the UGC, in a letter to the education ministry, urged the government to introduce free internet packages for university students to enable them to attend online education.
The regulatory body also sought grants or soft loans for students who need to buy smartphones to access online classes, according to UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah.
Copies of the letter were sent to the post and telecommunications division and ICT division.
On July 6, Education Minister Dipu Moni said, "Many educational institutions are conducting online academic activities due to the pandemic but it has become difficult for many students to bear the internet expenses."
"Negotiations are on with the mobile operators so that they consider providing free internet services or low-cost internet packages to students," she said, while attending a webinar organised by the ruling Awami League.
She also said online academic activities will continue alongside the regular ones during the post-coronavirus pandemic.
Mustafa Jabbar told The Daily Star that they are discussing special internet packages for university students with telecom operators.
"We hope that we will be able to give good news soon. Operators in principle have agreed to provide the internet service to university students at lower than the market price of internet [connection]," he said earlier this week.
The minister cited an agreement which Shahjalal University of Science and Technology signed with a telecom operator to make internet connection affordable for insolvent students.
"Other universities can replicate the process," he said.
SUST VC Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed said according to the agreement, the telecom operator is providing 15 GB of data for Tk 250 and 30 GB for Tk 450 to insolvent students.
The university will be paying on behalf of the students and around 30 to 50 percent students from each department will be able to enjoy this benefit starting late July, he said.
The agreement will continue for three months for the time being, he added.
But getting affordable internet through mobile data plans for school and college students remains difficult.
The post and telecommunications minister pointed out that in Bangladesh a person has to be above 18 to own a sim card.
Thus, a comprehensive and coordinated step from all will be required in their case, he said.
Secondary and Higher Education Division Secretary Mahbub Hossain said they are working on ways to reduce the financial burden of online classes on students and parents.
However, he refused to make any further comments regarding the matter.
All educational institutions will remain closed till August 6, until further notice.