Digital divide in education

11 July, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh has been facing challenges to its education system. The disease has put restrictions on the traditionally practised classroom-based teaching and learning in educational institutions, compelling them to shift to remote-based or digital learning platforms. However, there are many structural and institutional issues which hamper these virtual learning platforms. Internet access is disproportional across the country as is evidenced by a report published by the government’s Covid-19 Response Plan for Education Sector. As per the report, internet access is limited to 30 per cent of children in rural areas, and 7 per cent in the poorest quintile. The University Grants Commission (UGC) also found that 87 per cent of students have smart phones, but most of them have no internet connections or cannot afford to buy mobile data. Similarly, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in its survey on their students found that out of its 5,000 regular students, 1,000 are facing internet problems, 250 students have no device and 1,125 are unable to afford internet packages.

Here comes the aspect of the digital divide: poorest students do not have access to smart phones, and even if they do, net connectivity is poor. Some students might have smart phones, not all of them own desktops or laptops which are more suited for educational purposes. This gives rise to discrimination in access to education. Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, an eminent educationist of the country, has opined that about a half of an estimated five crore students are being benefited by the online education run by the educational institutions. He expressed his concern stating that the gap between rural and urban students will further increase if the authorities do not pay proper attention towards the issue. However, Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar has expressed his optimism telling that it is possible to provide internet access to students. To help students continue online education amid the coronavirus pandemic, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni has urged the mobile phone operators to provide either free internet or low-cost packages to them.