INTERNET TECHNOLOGY RAISES EDUCATIONAL HOPES FOR RURAL CHILDREN IN BANGLADESH
A charming, yet revolutionary television commercial has been garnering a great deal of attention on and off the airwaves and changing the way people in Bangladesh think about education, particularly in poorer, more rural areas, as local students are being taught by teachers hundreds of miles away in Dhaka via the Internet.
The TV commercial was produced by a leading local film production company called Half Stop Down for Bangladeshi’s largest mobile carrier Grameenphone and was based on the real-life activities of people in Bangladesh’s southeastern Bandarban hill district, where the “Online School” has been established on top of a hill for underprivileged children.
The commercial, being shown on a number of prominent TV outlets, has been hailed by viewers as inspiring and revolutionary in as much as how a piece of technology many in the modern world take for granted, can be used to educate and enhance the lives of those for whom nothing can or is taken for granted.
The commercial’s protagonist, a young boy called Shekhar, can be seen, school books in hand, waving good-bye to his grandmother as he leaves for school, just a stone’s throw away from his remote village. As Shekhar enters the classroom, the viewers can see he is welcomed by the smiling faces of his peers.
The twist lies in the fact that when the students are warmly greeted “Good morning” by their teacher, it is by way of a web camera and he is in Dhaka. As the students see their teacher appear on the screen in front of them, they reply in unison “Good morning, Sir,” as would be the case at the start of any regular lesson in school.
The school was founded in March this year by Jaago Foundation, a local development organization, in association with Grameenphone and Agni Systems Ltd, a leading local Internet service providing company.
Teachers from Dhaka instruct students at the Online School in Bandarban, some 316 km southeast of Dhaka, using video conferencing technology and with the aid of moderators in the physical class rooms.
Officials say the school was established in an effort to offer quality education for underprivileged children in Bandarban, a remote region, with mountainous terrain, yet boasting exquisitely beautiful nature — albeit not conducive to the regular style of education for students in the far-flung region.
Within the local community, there are some 11 ethnic minorities, each with their own language, culture and traditions.
The Jaago Foundation, which is responsible for providing physical support in the classrooms and designing the online curriculums for all the classes, said the school has nearly 100 students who had, along with their families, never previously dreamed that a basic education would ever be possible for them.
The online school has created an opportunity for children because their impoverished parents don’t have to bear the expenses for their education and they also don’t have to commute far from their village either.
“Considering our financial situation, thinking about Mukti’s education was a luxury we just couldn’t afford,schooling was too expensive. Moreover, my daughter needed extra care,” said Afroja Khatun, Mukti’s mother. “I always wished for a normal life for my daughter.”
Mukti’s parents then got to hear about a school in their vicinity where Mukti could get her education for free.
Many like Mukti’s parents had completely given up hope for their children’s education, but the school helped them to reevaluate their circumstances, their children’s potential future successes and the power of technology to both influence and empower society for the better.
In Bangladesh, there is still an ecumenical gap between urban and rural education systems, with many in rural areas simply not having access to technological advances like the Internet.
“With education as one of the focus areas of Corporate Responsibility, we’ve chosen Online School as a medium to promote quality education in remote areas of Bangladesh,” said Marcus Adaktusson, director of communications of Grameenphone Ltd.
“This concept can effectively cater to the needs of teachers in rural areas, while maintaining the same quality of education as in the schools of Dhaka. By utilizing the innovative use of data connectivity, Online Schools are aligned with our ambition of providing ‘Internet for All’,” Adaktusson said.
“I thank Grameenphone and Agni systems Ltd. for their support in our journey of educating disadvantaged children and equipping them with the tools for breaking the cycle of poverty,” added Korvi Rakshand, the founder of the Jaago Foundation.
Grameenphone is providing financial and technical support for the initiative, while Agni Systems built the network connections for the schools for free. The school, which teaches its classes in English, now has 81 students aged one to six.
Jaago Foundation has, thus far, established eight similar schools, with five of them being online and the other three offline. It plans to establish 64 schools in as many as 64 districts, representatives from the foundation told Xinhua.
“Education is the backbone of the nation. Unfortunately, there is a clear divide in the quality of education in our rural and urban educational institutions due to a lack of skilled teachers and educational resources,” Rakshand said.
“Our online schools are not intended to replace traditional schools, but rather to connect skilled teachers and resources with rural students who desperately need them, through the power of technology, so that quality education is available for all — even children living in a remote corner of Bangladesh for whom learning in a structured environment was once a mere pipe dream,” she added.
DECEMBER 03, 2014