POST TIME: 10 July, 2020 07:50:13 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 10 July, 2020 08:15:08 PM
Online education: Expectation, apprehension and frustration
Maximum 100 students can be accommodated in a classroom but through an extensive online course, 10,000 persons may be connected simultaneously. It can minimise not only academic cost but associated expenses also
Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Online education: Expectation, apprehension and frustration

History of education is as old as human civilisation. Primitive people had to learn from nature. In the hands of Greeks education got institutional shape like Academy, Lyceum, etc. Since then classroom education is the most popular, effective and widely followed system in the world but during corona pandemic everything including education has been disrupted. As educational institutions are closed sine die, examinations are uncertain, students are almost from books, academic activities are standstill, concern over academic future of students is gradually mounting, online education is being considered as the best alternative to overcome the backlog already piled up.

Like online shopping, online interview, online office, online conference, etc. online education is a buzzword now-a-days. Basically it is a learning system where students receive education through internet using their personal computers or android phones. Without coming into direct contact with teachers students learn from distance but it is not new in our country. In 1957 the Education Reform Commission recommended to establish a correspondence school experimentally for students intending to receive education without attending regular classes. As a continuation of it the Bangladesh Institute of Distance Education (BIDE) was established in 1985. Under an Act of Parliament, the Bangladesh Open University (BOU) was established in October 1992 and BIDE was merged with it. Due to exigency government and some institutions in Bangladesh are intending to follow online education.

There is a common perception that online education has multisided benefits because except a computer nothing more is normally required for it. If utilized effectively online education may be more fruitful than classroom education. Maximum 100 students can be accommodated in a classroom but through extensive online course 10,000 persons may be connected simultaneously. It can minimise not only academic cost but associated expenses also. Online education provides opportunity to contact coursemates home and abroad. Students can prepare their studies through consultation among themselves. It makes them culturally sensitive and capable to understand other environments easily. Students may choose specialised subjects which may not be available locally.

Superficially these are very reasonable expectations from online education but reality is not so easy because there are elements of frustration also. For online education a computer or android phone is needed initially which is not always affordable for every guardian. A report of the Anandabazar mentioned that guardians in Kolkata rushed to purchase android phones for their children. Internet connection is inevitable but it is not available everywhere, particularly in rural areas. Uninterrupted power supply and internet connection are still uncertain. Professor Zafar Iqbal has written that one of his students had to draw 2.5 kilometres line at his own expense but what about others? Many of our families are not solvent enough and technical problems are acute. Sangbad Pratidin (Kolkata) reported that a poor family could not afford Rs. 10,000/- for an android phone for their school going daughter’s academic purpose and she committed suicide. A teacher may conduct class with 50 students but everybody may not have internet connection. Even if they have, everyone may not be connected at the same time due to technical defect.

About online shopping it is said that customers are sometimes cheated because instead of the actual item shown on computer screen, below quality products are delivered. It may happen in the case of online education also. Moreover, academic problems also exist. For the sake of debate it can be assumed that online education is effective but it is applicable to subjects of arts and social science only. It is not applicable to subjects of commerce and science, medical, engineering and agriculture because practical class, laboratory demonstration and field work are never possible through online. Face-to-face interaction with teachers is very much necessary for education. For this reason direct classes are held on holidays for students of Bangladesh Open University. During the pandemic, Germany and France have decided to form a group of 15 students for classroom teaching.

Academic attainment of a student can be assessed only through examination. How the theoretical and practical examination would be held? How answer scripts would be collected, distributed, evaluated, scrutinised, tabulated? Aim of education is not only to get a certificate but to be socialised also. For a student, classmates, teachers, other students, supporting staffs, etc. are the platforms of socialisation. Educational institutions are places to learn art of speaking, way of presentation, leadership quality, self development, extra and co-curricular activities. Are these available through online education?

Online education is now a trade. Traditionally, after two months of publishing HSC examinations results, activities of admission into higher education begin. After or even before HSC examination, students are enrolled with coaching centres for preparation to get admitted into universities and medical colleges. In this year HSC examination is still uncertain whereas some leading coaching centres like UCC, Unmesh, Udvash, Medico, Focus, Retina have already started online coaching admission in the name of preparation for appearing at university admission test charging Tk. 17,000/- to 19,000/-. Moreover, coaching classes for class VIII, IX and X are continuing. Educationists think that this is nothing but trade which is very frustrating (Bangladesh Pratidin, 18-6-2020).

Another place of apprehension is litigation. Tuition fees are very high in developed countries. It costs average $21,950 for one year of tuition, room and board at a four-year public university and $49,870 at a private school in the United States. During the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities have decided to continue classes through online. It is a timely decision no doubt, but students have filed cases against private and state universities and colleges that have raised some pertinent questions. Around 100 suits have been filed seeking refund arguing that students paid tuition fees to acquire knowledge directly from teachers through attending classes, laboratories, seminars and group discussions, not for online education. Undergraduates have filed cases against more than 50 schools claiming partial tuition, room-and-board and fee refund after shut down. Some of these cases are seeking compensation for the difference in quality between online and classroom education. Concerned officials apprehend that if students win it will be tremendously tough for most of the institutions to pay the refunds. Education in our private universities, medical colleges and some so-called aristocratic schools is also expensive. What will happen if students here follow their online American friends?  

Recently our education minister has said that the whole education system of Bangladesh will be online based (The Bangladesh Pratidin, 22-6-2020). Very realistic thinking but answers to these vital questions are to be settled first. She has further said that considering financial hardship of many guardians, the government will request mobile operators to provide internet facility free of cost or at least at reduced rate for students. It is a very good initiative but not free from apprehension. Is there any guarantee that students will not use internet connection to enjoy obnoxious materials or playing video games or the connection will remain active during class time only?  

The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes