Impact of the COVID-19 on the Education System of Bangladesh and the Way Out

Date: May 23, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has been taking lives and changing its behavior since it got diagnosed initially in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then, the world has experienced many changes from peoples' lifestyles to local or international trade and movements. The pandemic has become a new normal to the world, and everyone is learning to adapt to this problematic situation. New variants of the Coronavirus have become a headache for scientists trying to mitigate the effect of this virus by inventing vaccines. Some vaccines work effectively to the previous mutation of the Coronavirus, whether struggling to produce enough antibodies against the new modifications like the variant found in India. But the hope for reducing the rapidly increasing death toll worldwide is no longer a dream now by the hard work of the frontline warriors, viz- scientists, doctors, health employees, et cetera. The Annihilation of this life-taking virus will not be accessible soon as vaccines and proper health measures can only control the spread of this virus or the odds of getting infected. There are instances of infected people even after being vaccinated.

Therefore, I am afraid of the full-fledged operations of the educational institutions physically soon. In such a case, the education system becomes collapsed, and students are away from education for so long, especially school and college students from remote towns or village areas. Online educational platforms are the only alternative to redeem or uplift the education system and taking back the students on track. Otherwise, the nation will suffer the aftereffect of this COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector and lose many potential brains. In a least-developed country like Bangladesh, where people suffer to manage their basic needs, functioning online education or assessment can be troublesome but not impossible. The recently published report by GSMA (Groupe Special Mobile Association) and AMTOB (Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh) states that 95% of Bangladesh's population is under the 4G coverage. The next concern could be the price of 3G/4G mobile data and 3G/4G enabled smartphones in Bangladesh. A UK-based ISP(Internet Service Provider) reviewing platform ISPreview ranked Bangladesh as 13 in the cheapest mobile internet provider list among 230 countries worldwide.

In contrast, three of our neighboring countries- India(1), Srilanka(7), and Myanmar(9) ranked above us in the list. The report done by GSMA and AMTOB further exhibits that only 28 percent of the mobile phone users have 4G connections, whereas 25 percent and 47 percent of the mobile phone users have 3G and 2G connections, respectively. As 3G/4G enabled smartphones are the most suitable and the easiest way to reach students and providing online education services at students' doorstep, the number of 3G/4G enabled smartphones should be affordable. If the government can ensure that each of the 35.2 million households of Bangladesh (Statista 2021) has at least one smartphone at home, providing fully functional online education services will be one step closer. The government can give subsidies in buying smartphones and mobile data to ensure the affordability of the lower-income families to educate their children online during this COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many other factors in providing uninterrupted online education in Bangladesh. Firstly, the government should equip the teachers with the operational knowledge of online platforms for conducting classes and taking assimilation by giving proper training. Secondly, platforms and the manner of taking classes, i.e., live or recorded, must be chosen according to the area's internet connection facility and peoples' affordability. For example, WhatsApp or Google Classroom are good platforms for sharing recorded classes with students where internet connection is not standard. Whereas- live classes can be conducted in town areas using Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, or Microsoft Teams, which are bandwidth-hungry applications and required highspeed connectivity for maintaining the quality of the live class. Although recorded lessons are not interactive for the students, they will prevent the detachment of the students from the education. Thirdly, an area-based (Union, Pourosova, or Upajila) expert panel consisting of UNO, Chairmans/Mayors, Principals /Headmasters should be formed to look up, survey, and decide for the smooth operation of the online teaching-learning process in that locality. Fourthly, the government should abandon the concept of the auto pass or promote the students to the next class, which demotivates students keeping in touch with the subject materials. Last but not least, all the stakeholders of the education sector of Bangladesh should realize the impact of COVID-19, understand the longevity of this pandemic, and prepare for the worst. Because nobody knows when exactly the world will become relieved from this COVID era.