Globally, as of 1 June 2020, the closure of the educational institution in 144 countries affected 1.2 billion students (68 percent of the total number of students enrolled worldwide). It's no different in developing countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Each educational institute has been closed since 17 March. The lack of educational facilities has a strong and more urgent impact on education with about 36 million students during COVID-19.
At that time, the government of Bangladesh took steps to broadcast classes, through national television, for the primary and secondary level students. Private educational institutions take classes online. NGOs and other organizations also introduced Tele-Counseling and Tele-learning for alternative education.
On the other hand, it was a bit of luck for Myanmar that all schools were also just about to close for the summer holidays which begin in early March and finish at the end of May just after the pandemic has confirmed, and thus it gave Myanmar students not be left behind the classes so far and the government to have prepared for what should be done under limited resources.
Challenges of Online Education
During the battle against a lack of learning, online education is prominently suggested. However, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are not yet able to go fully for online learning for certain factors.
1. Not quite an inclusive approach
Rasheda K Choudhury, campaign Executive Director for Popular Education, said that they did not create alternative means of education for children living in remote or difficult to reach areas. Students who do not access alternative networks and TV outlets are in danger of leaving school. The rich-poor inequalities within the education system will also be increased, said the webinar discussants, which was coordinated by the Economic Modeling Network of South Asia. Only 50% of students have access to classes via television, according to a new UNICEF survey.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, is also concerned about the quality of online education as she believes that online classes concentrate on more academic skills other than social and life-skills which are more feasible for life and can only be gained from face-to-face interaction.
2. Ownership inequality in ICT equipment (TV, Computer, Mobile) and access to internet
In 2019, only 5.6 percent of households in Bangladesh have computers, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019 survey made by the Bangladesh Statistics Bureau (BBS) and UNICEF. 50.6% of households have TV sets.
Most cell phone users use either a simple phone (while having only text and call functionality) or a phone with additional features, including the Internet and multimedia). The usage of the smartphone is very small with just 24%. Low penetration of smartphones prohibits students from access to educational software, online courses, and learning resources such as slides and eBooks.
The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) estimated that at the end of March 2020, the total number of Internet Subscribers exceeded 103,253 million. Given this rise, the percentage of the total internet population is still small.
Turning to Myanmar, there has been the world’s longest internet outage in conflict areas in eight townships of Rakhine and Chin states, affecting more than one million residents since June 2019. Primarily, these states are two of the poorest states where access to education is limited.
Additionally, Brodynt’s data shows that less than 40% of internet penetration was observed by the end of 2019 while the number of users has escalated in big cities, but that of users still scare in rural areas of the country.
3. Slow internet speed
However, Myanmar’s internet connection is relatively better compared to Bangladesh as the country was ranked 2nd among ASEAN countries in mobile internet speed with the average download speed of 24.07 Mbps and the 77th in the world according to Speedtest Global Index.
Although classroom education cannot be replaced, distance-learning or online learning is now unavoidable. So many doors can be opened if we can respond positively to this need. State, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and other agencies should work together to revolutionize the learning environment of the online world, to reshape the framework and to develop crisis management strategies.
1. The use of cost-effective, inclusive media should be an essential focus
The primary and secondary classes were conducted via national television in Bangladesh. However, the system is without the direct participation of the school teachers with their students, which in this crisis is essential to their wellbeing. Platforms should be built and to be used to connect students, parents, teachers, and administrations with simple technology. Fundamental tele-counseling or group calls based on apps may be a successful beginning. Cheaper and wider platforms such as radio can also be used for teaching audio materials.
2. Usage of educational applications platforms
Different learning tools and channels can be used to promote student learning and social care when closing school. Students typically use collaboration tools to facilitate Live Videos, including Zoom, Skype, etc. Many companies, including Google Classroom, Moodle, etc. use the management framework of digital learning. Students can use massive open online courses (Coursera), self-directed content (Khan Academy) as well as massive open online learning platforms to learn more.
Bangladesh now has 133 colleges, both public and private. If all universities want to develop their educational software systems immediately after these quarantine days, it will take time, because it needs massive investment and a large workforce. So, if an education software can be built under government patronage, the Ministry of Public Education, the specialist education providers, the eLearning experts, and the University's Grand Commission (UGC), all the universities will then be linked to the respective university websites under one platform.
Turning to Myanmar, Facebook seems the most common platform where private classes are offered, and many people still do not know how to google yet due to low digital literacy. Therefore, it is important that youth are encouraged to upgrade their digital literacy, so as not to be left behind and use more effective educational online platforms, so much so that they gain the best possible outcome from online learning.
3. Remote learning
The prospect of sharing resources and increasing interaction may be remote learning. Because students learn from home via the Internet under the pandemic situation, resources such as teachers, class materials, etc. can be exchanged and shared among educational institutions. An urban teacher can allow rural students to take part in the school, vice versa, or even one school can exchange materials and talk with other schools. More interconnectedness could help to combat the crisis.
For example, many students residing in rural areas of Myanmar no longer need to travel to big cities like Yangon and Mandalay in order to attend personal development courses since many popular education providers are now available online.
4. Telecom Sector collaboration with the education sector to facilitate affordable e-learning
The telecommunications industry might devise unique data packages that allow students to make cheaper use of the e-learning framework and platforms over mobile internet. This could have been a significantly progressive move, if properly implemented, that would benefit the future of education in the long term. Fortunately, telecoms in Myanmar have reduced their data packages price almost half for the sake of more accessibility to everyone.
5. Reopening of schools can be an opportunity
First, safety guidelines should be strictly followed when schools are opened. These guidelines have been established by WHO and UNICEF. Many schools cannot have sufficient hygiene facilities. Also in remote schools, it is high time for the government to fund adequate hygiene facilities.
Secondly, to ensure each student returns to school, it should prioritize active public policies, such as revision of existing scholarship programs, options for 'education loans,' communications campaigns, active involvement with families in distress, etc.
Thirdly, supplementary nutrition programs to be implemented nationally, including the school feeding program and the midday meal programs. These measures could also contribute to reducing drop-out rates.
Fourthly, digital divides among income groups as well as between regions should be reduced by effective measures.
6. The government needs to increase education allocation.
Moreover, government allocation in education must be increased. Bangladesh 's educational expenditures are one of the world's lowest both in proportion with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and in proportion to its total tax revenue. Total education expenditure is proposed to be Tk 664,01 which is only 11.7% as part of a share of the overall budget. A similar low allocation which is 10.4 % for 2019, but has significantly soared compared to the previous years, can be observed.
Myanmar also had just over 10 % of allocation on education in 2019. However, it can be said that the amount has climbed historically as it was just about 5 % a decade ago.
7. Negotiating within Family
Surfing the internet is seen as using only Facebook which is considered useless, time-wasting and risky among many Myanmar families as teenagers and youth are addicted to Facebook. Almost all Myanmar internet users have at least one active Facebook account and more than 40 % of the population are on Facebook according to Napoleon Cat. In addition, parents are worried about internet safety based on hearsay. These may lead to misunderstanding between parents and children, and thus youth should explain to their guardians on how the internet will be used for effective online learning in order to avoid conflicts with families.
Combating the challenges requires enhanced cooperation between the government, non-governmental organizations, and development partners. But it is the government who must lead the way out of this crisis. It will be too late to correct it afterward if appropriate actions are not taken now.