School of An­other Kind

On­line net­works are be­ing uti­lized to bring the fruits of ed­u­ca­tion to ru­ral Bangladesh.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous lead­ing pub­li­ca­tions.

The chil­dren of ru­ral Bangladesh are now served by on­line teach­ing.

Much like in Pak­istan, the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in Bangladesh, par­tic­u­larly its ru­ral ar­eas, leaves much to be de­sired. Given the short­age of proper in­fra­struc­ture and qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers, chil­dren in Bangladesh’s ru­ral ar­eas re­main de­prived of ed­u­ca­tion. In such a sce­nario, sev­eral so­cially re­spon­si­ble com­pa­nies and not-for­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions have taken it upon them­selves to set up – and spon­sor – schools in ru­ral cen­ters across the coun­try. Con­ven­tional ap­proaches to the prob­lem, how­ever, have been largely un­suc­cess­ful and as a re­sult sev­eral on­line schools have been set up that cater specif­i­cally to ru­ral cen­ters.

In this re­gard, the Grameenphone (part of the Te­lenor Group) -Jaago col­lab­o­ra­tion has been rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful. “The con­cept of on­line school is in­deed ground­break­ing. If this can be suc­cess­fully put into op­er­a­tion in Bangladesh, not only will the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion im­prove but we will also take a step for­ward to­wards a dig­i­tal Bangladesh. We want to show how mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity can trans­form con­ven­tional ways of pro­vid­ing ba­sic ser­vices to the masses,” says Kazi Monirul Kabir, Chief Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer, Grameenphone.

The idea is hardly new – in ar­eas where chil­dren are un­able to tra­verse

long dis­tances be­cause of the rough ter­rain or so­cial/cul­tural/se­cu­rity re­stric­tions, the class­room comes to them. This is much like an ear­lier ver­sion where teach­ers would go from door to door, col­lect chil­dren of a cer­tain age and set up a makeshift class­room for them. The re­mote ‘class­room’ is con­nected on­line with a class­room in Dhaka where the teacher con­ducts the ses­sion us­ing video con­fer­enc­ing tech­nol­ogy, along with the sup­port of as­signed staff at re­mote lo­ca­tions. While the class is in ses­sion, both the teacher and the stu­dents have the free­dom to in­ter­act live.

A prac­ti­cal and fea­si­ble so­lu­tion to the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion prob­lem, the first Grameenphone-Jaago Foun­da­tion on­line school was set up in 2012 at Gazipur, fol­lowed by two oth­ers in Hazarib­agh and Lal­bagh in Dhaka. Soon enough, other schools were set up around the coun­try with the fourth one be­ing launched in the South­east­ern Ban­dar­ban dis­trict that al­lowed ac­cess of chil­dren from nearly 100 fam­i­lies in re­mote hilly vil­lages to the in­for­ma­tion su­per­high­way.

Teach­ers from Dhaka in­struct stu­dents at the on­line school in Ban­dar­ban, some 316 km southeast of Dhaka, us­ing video con­fer­enc­ing tech­nol­ogy and with the aid of mod­er­a­tors in the phys­i­cal class­rooms. Of­fi­cials say the school was es­tab­lished in an ef­fort to of­fer qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren in Ban­dar­ban, a re­mote re­gion, with moun­tain­ous ter­rain, yet boasting exquisitely beau­ti­ful na­ture -- though it was not con­ducive to the regular style of ed­u­ca­tion for stu­dents in the far-flung re­gion. “40 chil­dren are now study­ing here. Most of them are from Ton­chongga and Bom tribes. Some Ben­gali chil­dren are also en­rolled in the schools,” says Shu­danonda Ton­chongga, lo­cal co­or­di­na­tor of the school.

Mean­while, Mah­mud Hos­sain, chief cor­po­rate af­fairs of­fi­cer at Grameenphone says: “Chil­dren who be­long to the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity have no in­ter­net ac­cess. The school is our ef­fort to give such ac­cess to the in­dige­nous chil­dren. It is the 3G net­work that has cre­ated the op­por­tu­nity to en­sure in­ter­net for all.”

The Jaago Foun­da­tion, which is re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing phys­i­cal sup­port in the class­rooms and designing the on­line cur­ric­ula for all the classes, said the stu­dents along with their fam­i­lies, had never pre­vi­ously dreamed that ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion would ever be pos­si­ble for them. The next clos­est school for the folks living there is roughly five kilo­me­ters away, which in the hill tracts is an even more ar­du­ous area. The on­line school has cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren be­cause their im­pov­er­ished par­ents don't have to bear the ex­penses for their ed­u­ca­tion and they also don't have to com­mute far from their vil­lage. "Con­sid­er­ing our fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, think­ing about our daugh­ter’s ed­u­ca­tion was a luxury we just couldn't af­ford since school­ing was too ex­pen­sive. More­over, my daugh­ter needed ex­tra care," says Afroja Khatun, a lo­cal whose daugh­ter Mukti goes to the Ban­dar­ban on­line school. "I al­ways wished for a nor­mal life for my daugh­ter."

So how does an on­line class­room work? Chil­dren are ad­mit­ted to a class spe­cially geared to teach the stu­dents the man­ners and eti­quette that come with on­line ed­u­ca­tion. To main­tain this at­mos­phere, stu­dents are not ad­mit­ted to higher classes from out­side, but pro­moted in­ter­nally . Two classes now ex­ist, with 30 to 40 stu­dents in each. Ro­ta­tion is main­tained in the seat­ing ar­range­ment so that each stu­dent may have a chance at prox­im­ity with the teacher and vice versa.

Since it is dif­fi­cult for teach­ers to con­trol chil­dren with­out phys­i­cal pres­ence, there are mod­er­a­tors present who act as their as­sis­tants

The re­mote ‘class­room’ is con­nected on­line with a class­room in Dhaka where the teacher con­ducts the ses­sion.

and prox­ies when nec­es­sary. The mod­er­a­tors are taken from the lo­cal­ity and their en­gage­ment in the class­room in­stills them with valu­able skills and ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter class ends, the teach­ers hold a 10-15 minute dis­cus­sion with the mod­er­a­tors about the day and their les­son plans and ideas for the next day. In the event of a con­nec­tiv­ity is­sue, the mod­er­a­tors may hold the class by them­selves. The tech­nol­ogy used is ba­sic and is suit­able for video con­fer­enc­ing. Nev­er­the­less, it still en­tices the stu­dents and en­cour­ages them to at­tend class.

The cur­ricu­lum fol­lowed by the school is Jaago's own. It is clos­est to the English ver­sion of the na­tional cur­ricu­lum but bor­rows things from other cur­ric­ula as well. The school goes up to class 5, af­ter which stu­dents sit for the na­tional Pri­mary School Cer­tifi­cate (PSC) ex­am­i­na­tion. They can trans­fer to other schools af­ter PSC.

The con­cerned au­thor­i­ties in Bangladesh are hope­ful that this ini­tia­tive will cre­ate an ex­am­ple across the coun­try - that com­mu­ni­ca­tion can over­come any bound­aries – ge­o­graph­i­cal or oth­er­wise. The goal here is to make ed­u­ca­tion the best it can be and ac­ces­si­ble for all and from the looks of it, Bangladesh is on the right track to achiev­ing that tar­get.

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