Education During COVID-19 in Bangladesh: Alternative Ways to Ensure Education for All

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Distance Education
Education Sector Planning

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 39 million learners in Bangladesh are not going to their schools, colleges and universities since 18 March 2020. They are missing out on direct classroom teaching-learning opportunities and interactions with their peers and teachers, which is in turn affecting their learning experiences as well as their socio-cultural and emotional development. There is a high chance that this will cause them to be more introverted and addicted to online games, illegal websites, anti-social activities and drugs. They also do not know when their educational institutions will  reopen, which would allow some normalcy, at least in education, to be restored. 

We can compare their current situation with a “Black Box” in which 39 million learners are receiving a diverse and unorganized collection of services like classes delivered through Sangsad TV and Zoom, weekly assignments, etc. However, we cannot be sure whether all learners are getting similar access to these opportunities or not. We also do not know whether they are really learning or not; And if they are learning, we do not know to what extent and if they are facing any difficulties. There is no way to give feedback on the challenges faced, as most of the initiated remote opportunities are following a one-way method of teaching, where learners do not have the chance to ask any questions or provide feedback on the challenges they are facing. 

It is an unpleasant truth that the majority of total learners in Bangladesh are not getting proper access to remote learning opportunities through television, mobile phones, radio and Internet. Bangladesh has a multi-level economy in which a majority of people are living under a low- and middle-class economic status. The majority of families don’t have television (50%), smart mobile phones (62%), radio (95%) or Internet access (59%) to engage in remote learning opportunities following the closure of all educational institutions. Moreover, The profile of learners differ greatly. There are some learners who have smartphones and/or laptops or computers, but do not have internet access. It can be that they don’t have money to purchase any internet data packages or do not have enough internet signal to join online-based opportunities. There are other learners who have television and/or radio but do not have the broadcast signal.  A World Bank study (2021) found that less than 50 percent of surveyed school children (aged 5-15) have access to radios, computers, and televisions, whereas nearly all of them have access to mobile phones, but many of them don’t have access to the Internet. Another survey found that among 21 percent of households with access to online learning programs, only 2 percent used them. The survey also found that 9.2 percent of the poorest families had access to television vs 91 percent for the richest families.  A similar trend exists across the other alternative learning mediums. 

Pathways to Ensure Learners Access Education

Engage Teachers and Make Them More Accountable to Ensure Access of Learners: 

Teachers know their learners  best. They know who has access to remote learning opportunities or not. They know where they live. They know how they can help each other. We know we have limited resources but we need to ensure proper use of them. Teachers can check the status of their students their ability to participate in initiated opportunities and platforms, and identify their learners’ problems and find alternative ways to resolve them. Suppose a learner has no television, radio, and/or smartphone at home.  What will this learner do and how will he participate? Concerned teachers can help such learners. For example, teachers will arrange for them to participate in lessons through the help of others, The teacher could connect a learner with others who have internet access and living nearby, or ensure/ arrange a family in the area with a TV, radio, or mobile phone to help the learner participate in the lesson. In this case, the teacher and learner will maintain social distance and in this way ensure the safety and security of the learner. 

Circulate Widely the Schedule of Radio & Television-Based Distance Education: 

Although the government has initiated various distance education initiatives through radio and television, such as: Amar Ghore Amar School (Sangsad TV program), Ghore Bose Shikhi (Radio and TV program),  the program schedule is not widely circulated. As a result , a significant number of learners are not benefitting from these initiatives. Therefore, the government should focus more on circulating the schedule widely and to ensure it reaches all learners. The government can also inform teachers better and engage them in ensuring learners receive the schedule and attend the lessons. Furthermore, the district-level education authority (Education Office) could collect data on how many learners were reached by teachers during sessions or how many learners attended lessons in a week or month, through developing an online-based user-friendly monitoring system. There are many online data collection applications available, inlcuding:  Open Data Kit (Android), KoboToolbox (Android & Web), REDcap (Android, iOS & Web), Magpi (Android & iOS), Field Task (Android, iOS & Web), Jotforms mobile (Android, iOS &n Web), Survey CTO (Android & Web), Teamscope (Android, iOS & Web) etc.

Share Recorded Sessions of Lessons Through Portable Devices by Teachers: 

Based on the different research findings, we came to know that a significant number of learners in Bangladesh do not have the access to distance education opportunities. Very few numbers of learners have devices like radio, television, smartphones, etc. to participate in government-initiated distance education programs. To ensure all learners can access these opportunities, the government could provide portable devices and platforms to the teachers, who  will then share the recorded lessons through these devices to learners who currently have no access to distance education opportunities. In this way, the governments can ensure all learners’ have accessibility to government-initiated distance education opportunities.  

Start One-to-One Sessions for Learners: 

One-to-one sessions should be considered where possible. . Teachers can visit learners’ homes and spend 10-20 minutes with each one. It can occur twice a week more or less, depending  on the teacher to learner ratio, and the distance of the learners’ house and communication system used. If the teacher to learner ratio is low, the distance of the learners’ house is short and the communication system is good, then the frequency of visits to the learners’ house can be increased. 

Start Caregiver-Led Education: 

Where one-to-one sessions for learners is not possible, we can look at using caregiver-led education. Through this method, teachers identify a caregiver for each learner and will meet the caregiver each week to share broad topics and include space for clarification on certain aspects in a particular week. 

Start Roster-Based Face-to-Face Small Group Learning Sessions:  

This could be another effective option for ensuring the active participation of all students. Through this process, teachers could divide all students in small groups (consisting of 5-6 students in each group). These small groups would come to school in alternating and staggered groups.. For example, Group-1 will come on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday at 8:00 AM and will stay until 12:00 PM. Group-2 will come the same days, but starting from 12:00 PM until 04:00 PM. Group-3 will come on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00 AM and will stay until 12:00 PM. Group-4 will come the same days as Group-3, but starting from 12:00 PM until 04:00 PM. 

To make this process effective, we would need to provide an in-depth training to all the teachers. It may happen remotely in distance learning mode. In this training, teachers will learn how to form groups, how to maintain social distance in classrooms, how to maintain hygiene, as well as personal safety and security. At the same time, they will also undergo training on how to make their classes short to cut down the time spent in-person. 


About the Author 


Md. Ramjan Ali is working as an EiE Project Manager with Plan International Bangladesh. He is leading a large education in emergency project for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Cox’s Bazar. He has over 8 years of work experience in Education and Educational Research. He has worked with various national and international development organizations (Plan International, World Vision, UCEP & Food for the Hungry). He completed his graduation and a post-graduation in Education from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.