Two more years have been sought for the project’s implementation, and the education ministry is thinking about the proposal
The tenure of the project named "ICT for Education in Secondary and Higher Secondary Level Project-2" under the education ministry ended on 31 July this year, but only 8% of work had been done in four years amid allegations of irregularities.
Sources said the ministry had introduced the project in 2016 to set up multimedia classrooms in 31,340 secondary and higher secondary schools and madrasas across the country.
The cost of the project was Tk1,353 crore. Of the amount, Tk400 crore was allocated for teachers' training and the rest for buying digital devices.
The target of the project was to train 572,000 teachers across the country for six to 12 days.
After completion of the training, the education ministry was scheduled to distribute laptops, multimedia projectors, modems, and speakers among 31,340 secondary and higher secondary schools and madrasas.
But project officials prioritised purchasing devices instead of training teachers. The first project director of the second phase had to step down in the wake of widespread allegations of irregularities in purchasing sub-standard laptops and other devices, though he denied all the allegations.
"I was appointed in September 2017. I did not buy anything but offered tenders. I had no involvement in any irregularities. The ministry found nothing against me either," Professor Dr Jasim Uddin, the ousted project director, told The Business Standard.
The ministry appointed Professor Dr Abdus Sabur Khan as the project director in 2018. He purchased 13,574 modems and distributed those among educational institutions in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chattogram, Mymensingh, and Cumilla divisions.
He trained about 150,000 teachers since his tenure started. He spent Tk115 crore for training and purchasing modems, but there were many allegations of irregularities against him as well. A team of the ministry is investigating the allegations.
Meanwhile, Professor Sabur has sought two more years to implement the project, and the ministry is thinking about his proposal.
He told The Business Standard the project could not be completed due to many difficulties.
"We took attempts five times but could not purchase the devices. Someone also lodged a case against us. That is why we failed to complete the project on time," he said.
"Our target was to complete most of the trainings by June this year. But the coronavirus pandemic destroyed everything as all our trainings remain suspended since March. So, we need more time to finish the project," he added.
Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said, "Actually, we know everything. Now we are putting emphasis on teachers' training."
"We are considering the proposal to extend the project tenure. We must give more time to complete the unfinished work," he said.
Kazlarpar High School in the capital's Jatrabari got a modem under the project in 2018, but the school authorities did not use it even for a moment as they use broadband internet.
Mohsin Hossain, head teacher of the school, told The Business Standard they have a multimedia classroom and they use broadband internet.
"We do not need any modem. We need more computers, projectors, and speakers, but we got a modem. This is just a waste of public money," he added.
The authorities of Darshana High School in Kalkini upazila of Madaripur said they were trying to use the modem but it was not working.
This correspondent came to know about 15 more institutions in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chattogram, and Cumilla divisions that got modems but are not using them.
Project insiders said it was a wrong decision to buy modems before completing teachers' training.
The same thing happened in the first phase of the project. The ministry distributed laptops, multimedia projectors, modems and speakers among 23,331 schools, colleges and madrasas across the country from 2012 to 2015, spending more than Tk300 crore.
But they trained 30,000 teachers and upazila education officials to run multimedia classrooms after distributing the devices. As a result, the first phase of the project failed to produce any fruitful result in digitalising the educational institutions.
A good number of teachers who were trained said they could not implement anything in the classroom because they did not learn anything practical in the training.
Even the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under the Ministry of Planning in a 2018 study found that 43% of the laptops and 28% of the projectors were not functioning.
According to the study findings, over 80% of students and teachers think the lack of uninterrupted power supply, insufficient multimedia classrooms, and inadequate and substandard laptops and projectors have contributed to the sorry state of the project.
Asked about irregularities, the director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education said, "The ministry is investigating. After getting the probe report, we will take action if anyone's involvement in corruption is found."