As the digital divide is acute in Bangladesh, the television medium should be used to educate students
Young education enthusiasts and entrepreneurs have the skills to protect today's children from slipping into the darkness of illiteracy against the backdrop of this pandemic.
I have met many of them and their commitment to spreading knowledge in the underprivileged sections of society has amazed me. They have a better understanding of working at the grassroots than any other.
The government should rely on them, not on the bureaucrats, to design a programme to keep children from dropping out of school because of financial reasons – and to make up for the time the shutdown has cost academic calendars.
Televised lessons broadcast on Sangsad Television are of poor quality, but plenty of good video content has already been made by our young education entrepreneurs. All television channels, including private ones, can be instructed to air those videos in rotation to teach technical subjects like biology, physics and business studies.
The digital divide is acute here. Online teaching is not a feasible solution for public schools, colleges and universities where almost every class accommodates more than a hundred pupils. Moreover, students living in remote villages do not have the required internet bandwidth to connect to online classes. The services are costly as well.
Television will reach the majority of students – almost 80 percent of those studying in schools. The government can install a TV set at each school so that the remaining 20 percent do not fall through the cracks.
This is the time the government should make a hefty investment in education – even at the expense of suspension of a mega project like Padma Bridge or Rooppur Power Plant. If we lose 50 percent of the poverty-struck students, who are likely to veer away from education, it will be a terrible loss for the nation.
The government should make a list of the at-risk students, with the help of local administration, to give them a monthly allocation, of say Tk300, and a meal every day, so that their parents are encouraged to keep them in school after the epidemic.
When it comes to catching up with the academic sessions, I would suggest reducing the duration of a session or academic year to incorporate the missed courses. To be optimistic, I assume that the novel coronavirus' impact will last for about six months and so will the shutdown. After reopening the schools, colleges and universities, the school year can be reduced to 10 months – and 6-month semesters at public universities to 4 months – so that the pending courses can be covered over the next three years.
Young education and financial wizards, as I call them, can draw up a detailed programme to reach out to students at every corner of the country, using resources wisely and effectively. They have the knowhow to help students learn and make learning materials accessible.
The government must refrain from involving anyone from the beaten track, who have not given the nation anything over the last 45 years.
Young minds, if put together, can perform miracles. They can think outside of the box and that is exactly what is necessary in times of a crisis like this. Organisations like Brac and the Campaign for Popular Education, which have long track records of working in the sector, might be engaged in facilitating their activities.
Transparency International Bangladesh and the Anti-Corruption Commission have crucial roles here in sealing off any corrupt leakages of funds.
The Prime Minister's Office should be at the helm of the programme, overseeing the implementation process on the ground.
We will be doomed if the education ministry or the education directorate is given this responsibility. The bureaucrats are only good at exercising their power to waste public money on purchasing vehicles under a given project and organising overseas trips under the pretext of acquiring knowledge.
Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam is and educator and former teacher, Department of English, Dhaka University