Distance Learning During Pandemic: Digital divide leaves many behind | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:22 AM, July 05, 2020

Distance Learning During Pandemic: Digital divide leaves many behind

Many students from rural and poor families are not being able to access the distance learning adopted by schools due to the pandemic. 

As students who do not have TV or internet at home are being left behind, the educational inequalities will exacerbate, experts fear.

Only 44 percent of the children aged between 5 and 11 in rural areas have a TV at home. In urban areas, it is 75 percent, according to the government's Covid-19 Response Plan for Education Sector.

In the richest and poorest quintiles, just 6 percent and 90 percent of the children have a TV at home, it adds.

Similarly, only 3 percent of the children in rural areas and close to 0 percent from the poorest quintile are blessed with a computer at home, it reveals.

Internet access is limited to 30 percent of them in rural areas, and 7 percent in the poorest quintile, says the plan finalised recently.

DEEPER DIVIDES

Siddiqur Rahman, a chief consultant of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, said the biannual assessment for grade 3, 5, 6 and 8 students has repeatedly found a gap between rural and urban students' competencies.

Rural students also lag behind their urban counterparts in public exams, and the Covid-19 pandemic will aggravate the problem, he added.

Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury students from poor families and rural areas often do not get private tutors and assistance from parents -- things that are taken for granted in most affluent families.

Akram-Al-Hossain, secretary to the primary and mass education ministry, "The government is aware…. and working on the issue of the digital divide. But we cannot solve the problem overnight."

THE RESPONSE PLAN

The educated and wealthy families are likely to be able to better sustain their children's learning at home during the coronavirus restrictions, the plan says.

They have the digital literacy to support their children with technology-based learning modalities, it adds.

"This means that when schools reopen, children from hard to reach areas and disadvantaged children -- including those from households which cannot afford such modern and costly facilities -- will find themselves even further behind their peers," reads the plan.

The pandemic is upending the academic activities and may result in a complete gap of one year in the worst-case scenario, it adds.

Girls are more likely to fall behind than boys, especially in disadvantaged families. They are more likely than boys to be involved in domestic chores and they are much less likely to have access to a smartphone or other devices.

It proposed a three-phase plan -- short term for six months, mid term for one year and long term for two years -- to address the challenges.

Around 90 million US dollars will be needed to implement the plan.

There should be a contingency plan for a situation in which examinations get postponed.

Special make-up classes, adjusted lesson plans and assessments will be needed to prevent loss of an academic year.

Reaching children in rural areas, especially in the poorest households everywhere will require special consideration and alternative delivery mechanisms, it added.

"We already started distance learning, we are reaching more than 50 percent of students. We have plans to introduce recorded lessons through radios available at feature and smart mobile phones and toll free hotline 3336, to make this distance learning inclusive," Akram said.

WAY OUT

Education of about four crore students is suffering as all schools remain closed since March 17.

The government started broadcasting classes on TV through Sangshad TV channel for primary and secondary students in late March and early April.

Some of the renowned schools in the capital and other cities and towns are offering online classes, mostly through social media sites.

Siddiqur Rahma said extending the academic year to February next year may help. "There will be a learning gap if the students are promoted before completing the syllabus."

He also proposed giving teachers special incentives and cutting down on unnecessary vacations.

Government should invest more in addressing the disparity in education, Prof Serajul Islam said.

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