The recently introduced TV- and online-based outreach academic programmes for primary to university students are widening the rich-poor divide, a burning problem in the country’s education system, educationists and students said.
They said that a remarkable number of students from the poor families, who could not be covered by such programmes introduced in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, would turn dropouts or lag behind their classmates who could afford those.
‘The disparity would further increase as adequate attention has not been paid to the dropout issue yet… institutions have been allowed to run online education for about a half of an estimated five crore students who are solvent,’ Dhaka University English professor Syed Manzoorul Islam said.
‘The government ethically or constitutionally cannot do this,’ he said, adding that some 50 per cent people in the country did not have TV sets and even a greater proportion of people did not have access to the Internet or the ability to buy data.
Jahangirnagar University economics professor Anu Muhammad said that the country’s education system was in the hands of ‘education merchants’ because of wrong government policies.
‘The rich and the higher-middle class people, not more than 10 per cent of the total population, can “purchase” better education for their children which parents of many talented students from the poor class cannot,’ he said.
About 72 two per cent school teachers in a survey conducted by Campaign for Popular Education in May said that they did not have knowledge and device required for the online lessons and expressed unwillingness for such classes.
Representatives of 11 associations of teachers and 115 NGO schools participated in the ‘perception study’, said its deputy director KM Enamul Hoque.
University Grants Commission chairman Kazi Shahidullah, quoting a survey on the capacity of the public and private universities for operating online courses, said that Dhaka University’s Institute of Business Administration, Bangladesh University of Professionals and only several private universities were capable of running such courses.
‘We sent the report to the education ministry this week,’ he said.
Though director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education Syed Golam Faruk claimed that both the TV- and online-based classes got huge responses from school and college students, many of them from poor families said that they were not attending those classes.
Tahera Begum Setu, a sixth grader of Baganbari Uchha Bidyalay, said that her studies remained suspended since the closure of her school.
The daughter of a rickshaw van puller from Basabo, Setu said that her family did have no TV set or smartphone.
‘My neighbours do not allow me to watch TV at their houses for coronavirus fear,’ she lamented.
Learners from affluent families, who continue to attend outreach classes, also expressed dissatisfaction with the lectures arranged by the government through the state-run Sangsad TV channel and by private institutions through apps charging full tuition fees.
‘Teachers just give us home task and notes through Whatsapp but I can’t follow those properly. I don’t know who will evaluate so much homework when,’ said Nuzaira Khan, a grade 6 student of South Point School and College.
A finance student of a private university, Md Yamin, said that he might drop out of the online-based next semester beginning in July as he did not find any logic for bearing such expense for online lectures.
‘I find the ongoing lectures offered by the university not worthy of buying as teachers deliver lectures from notebooks or write them on whiteboards,’ said self-financed student Yamin.
Association of Private Universities of Bangladesh president Sheikh Kabir Hossain said that problems could be identified and solved only after introducing a system.
‘After our application, the education minister in May gave us permission to operate online classes and also asked other institutions to do so,’ Kabir said.
The education minister could not be reached for comment.
But in a press briefing on May 31 at her office she said that the government tried its level best to facilitate the students for continuing education amid the coronavirus prevalence.
The online- and TV-based learning would continue, she said, adding that the government would come up with more programmes for reaching the maximum number of students.
The government closed the academic institutions on March 18 and extended the closure till June 15.
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