Education Policy

Empowering Underprivileged Youths in Bangladesh through Computer Literacy: A thirst to build Digital Bangladesh

E-learning Bangladesh
Written by Editor
AJOY K. BOSE and ASAD-UZ-ZAMAN ASAD


Abstract: Today’s world is shaped by availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Because global economy is powered by technology, fueled by information and driven by knowledge. This rapid change demands a dynamic renovation in the sector of education. ICTs can empower teachers and students, promote change and foster the development of ‘21st century skills’.  With the improvement of technology the whole world is now connected with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which has brought a significant change in the way the world operates and communicates. In order to keep pace with the rest of the world almost all developing countries are thinking to adopt ICT into Education. Bangladesh is also initiating to step toward the same path with vision of integrating ICT into its education system. Alongside of Government initiative, some non-government initiatives are also mentionable. VAB-NJ (Volunteer Association for Bangladesh-New Jersey) & D.Net (Development Research Network)’s CLP (Computer Literacy programme) initiative is one of them. This paper shows that how CLP is reducing the digital gap empowering underprivileged youths and trying to meet the thirst of Digital Bangladesh.

Keywords: ICT in Education, Digital Education, Computer Literacy, Digital Bangladesh.

Introduction
Globalization and technical revolution are rolling as the buzz words all over the world. In fact, Global economy is powered by technology, fueled by information and driven by knowledge. This rapid change demands a dynamic renovation in the sector of education. With the improvement of technology the whole world is now connected with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which has brought a significant change in the way the world operates and communicates. In order to keep pace with the rest of the world almost all developing countries are thinking to adopt ICT into Education.
The education sector of Bangladesh has been suffering from many deficiencies including quality teachers, quality content and quality environment. This condition is very worse in rural areas due to skilled teachers, proper teaching-learning materials and so on. So, most of the students are used to get by heart the lessons rather than proper understanding. So integration of ICTs into education is needed to get rid from this tendency. There is potential that using ICT in the education sector, the costs can be brought down. It also improves the quality of education and imparts uniformity. If the country wants to enhance the concern over the significance and excellence of education then it is essential to expand educational opportunities to all, including most vulnerable groups, like low income and less skilled people, girls and women, underprivileged youths and children out of school.

What is Digital Bangladesh
At the present, Bangladesh is faced with the greatest challenge of creating a ‘Knowledge based Society’ and ensuring that their citizens are equipped with required knowledge and skill to effectively use ICT. It’s a matter of pleasure that the present Government of Bangladesh declared a vision to build ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021. The coining of the term Digital Bangladesh belongs to Mustafa Jabbar (President, Bangladesh Computer Samity – BCS), wrote an article of “Towards Digital Bangladesh” in the BCS ICT World, published in November, 2008 in which he defined Digital Bangladesh as digital government, digital education and digital business [1].

According to Dr. Ananya Raihan Executive Director, D.Net [1], ‘Digital Government’ does not cover the citizen services through ICTs; So, he would like to propose one more component to the Mustafa Jabbar’s definition. The Digital Bangladesh thus has four inter-related components:
• Digital Government
• Digital Education
• Digital Business, and
• Digital Citizen

‘Digital Bangladesh’ is thus another name of ‘Knowledge based Society’ in Bangladesh. To build a knowledge based society, as announced in the national ICT policy of Bangladesh, and reap the benefits of a new economy, Bangladesh needs its young generation to be educated and acquainted with the state-of-the-art knowledge of ICT. In developing a base for skilled ICT professionals, various plans are underway; however, they are concentrated in urban or semi-urban areas. Students and youths in rural areas rarely get a chance to learn computer and ICT, and thus do not know how this modern technology can be utilized to benefit their rural livelihood. It is understandable that with the poor resource base, it is not an easy task for the government alone to provide facilities and necessary resources for learning ICT skills throughout the country. Initiatives from different corners and groups of people are essential [2].

What is Digital Education
Digital Education is the appropriate application of tools and technologies for equitable access to quality education content for learners, teachers and educational policy makers. ICTs are used to ensure improvement of governance in education from bottom to the top. ICTs can play a crucial role in supporting teachers with appropriate skills development.

Computer Literacy and the availability and use of computers and ICTs are integral to the Digital Education component of the Digital Bangladesh, which requires restructuring the education system to ensure equity in terms of access to quality education. The quality education can be ensured through regeneration of dignity of teaching profession with appropriate skills development, where ICTs play a vital role. The education system produces quality human resources for meeting the demand of domestic knowledge based economy and also global demand for quality human resources [1].

What we are doing
E-learning BangladeshVolunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB), www.vabonline.org, a USA based voluntary organization, improves the lives of children in rural Bangladesh each year by giving them a better education. VAB gives scholarships, offers tutoring, equips classrooms, and trains teachers. VAB programs begin in preschool and continue through college. These programs lead to quality education, improved test scores, lower dropout rates, higher graduation successes, and ultimately a better standard of living for the students. New Jersey Chapter of Volunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB-NJ; www.vabonline.org/vabnj) initiated a project “Empowering Underprivileged Youths in Bangladesh through Computer Literacy” in late 2004 under the banner of Computer Literacy Program (CLP). This project is implemented by D.Net in Bangladesh. The vision of this programme is to reduce the digital gap and ensure a knowledge based society. The specific goals of this initiative that have been determined are: developing facilities in rural areas for educating and training underprivileged youths on ICTs; integrating local people into the programme through partnership; and developing and designing education/ training curriculum and training kits in line with the ICT policies of Bangladesh and tailored to the specific needs of the rural livelihoods. To attain the goals a complete package has been prepared under the CLP initiative, which includes- the establishment of Computer Literacy Centres (CLCs) in selected schools in rural Bangladesh, development of a structured hands-on curriculum, development of training manuals for both teachers and students, creation of a pool of trained teachers, and providing the required technical support and monitoring to ensure smooth operation of the CLCs.

Every CLC has a computer lab equipped with a minimum of four computers, one printer, other accessories and requisite furniture. Two teachers from each CLC receive two weeks of intensive computer and internet training from D.Net professionals in Dhaka. The teachers are also provided with a complete “Teacher’s Manual” so that upon their return they can teach the students. At each CLC, students in a batch of 8 to 10 receive hands-on training free of charge for two hours a day, twice a week for eight weeks. The content includes knowledge of the physical parts of the computer, fundamental usage, Microsoft Word, Excel spreadsheet, and Paint programs. Each student is provided with a copy of the specially developed student’s manual, “Esho Computer Shikhi” (Lets’ Learn Computer) at a nominal cost. Since the teachers provide the computer instructions in addition to their regular duties, each teacher and a teacher’s assistant (commonly a student who successfully completed the training) receive honorariums of BDT 1000 and BDT 200, respectively, after training a batch of students.

Why we are doing it
Computer is a key educational tool of the information age. While almost every home in the developed world has at least one personal computer, disadvantaged students in rural Bangladesh often have no access to a computer. The gap in available opportunities between a student in rural Bangladesh and one in a developed nation thus keeps on increasing.

The primary objective of the Computer Literacy Program is to alleviate Digital Divide through access to computers and other resources of information technology. Another objective is to leverage these resources to modernize the instruction and learning of other subjects, in particular, Science, Mathematics, and everyday English. Experiences of computer learning in successful developing nations demonstrate that this ‘digital divide’ is more amenable to remedy than many other disparities. What is even more encouraging is that a proper computer education can create a robust workforce capable of exploiting the global opportunities provided by the information technology for local economic development. It is crucial that underprivileged students in Bangladesh receive proper computer training that will enable them to seize the worldwide information technology opportunities.

CLP Status and it’s linkage with Digital Bangladesh
Digital BangladeshCLP is a complete and coordinated programme which is run through a three-way partnership between VAB-NJ, D.Net, and local school management. VAB-NJ provides the conceptual framework, the implementation directives, computers, teachers’ honorarium, and funds for project implementation.  D.Net assists in selecting the host institution, the production of the manuals and curriculum, teacher training, physical establishment of the computer lab, technical oversight to keep the computers operational, monitoring the progress of each CLC and overall management of the program.  The school management and local residents provide the room, furniture, electricity as well as encouragement to the teachers and students.  

The following figures will give a snapshot of the current status of the CLP. They are current as of February, 2010.
•    CLP crossed a major milestone by establishing its 100th center. As of November 2009 the total number of Computer Literacy Centers (CLCs) established under CLP is 107, which covers 39 districts out of 64.
•    70% of the CLCs in underprivileged rural areas.
•    Total number of teachers trained:  252 (16% female).
•    Total number of students enrolled: 25718 (male-female ratio 52:48).
•    Total number of students received certificate of completion: 25209 (97.78%).
Digital education Bangladesh

The above overview of the CLP activities and achievements would return a resounding answer, in many useful ways. The CLP experience should help quell any skepticism about the feasibility of realizing a Digital Bangladesh by 2021. If the efforts of a few Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) could accomplish what has been achieved, the power and resources of the Government together with participation of the private sector, NGOs, and interest groups should be able to fulfill the dream for digitization, provided proper strategies are formulated and implemented. The experience of CLP can be looked upon as the ready-made results of a successful pilot study to spread the ICT education and training to rural Bangladesh, which would be an integral part of the education component of strategy for a Digital Bangladesh.

The computer and Internet will be leveraged for digital management and delivery of educational materials. CLP has already taken important steps in implementation of this idea. In addition to making use of available materials on the Internet, often it will be necessary to present materials in a way that relate to the experience of students. With this end in mind the CTEE (Computer Teaches Everyday English) project was initiated by VAB-NJ and D.Net. CTEE aims at helping students learn aspects of English language, such as, proper English pronunciation, comprehension of spoken English, carrying out a conversation in English that are not commonly emphasized in their regular classes. An English teaching CD-ROM that draws from the daily experiences of students in Bangladesh has been developed, and is being used in a pilot program in five schools with CLCs. The project will help students learn English and develop computer and communication skills, which ought to be a coveted goal for the education sector for digitization of Bangladesh [3].

Computer Literacy Programme has received Manthan South Asia Award 2009 under e-Education category. This is actually an award for the programme which is empowering students and teachers in Bangladesh through ICT and Computer education. The Manthan award was initiated in 2003 by Digital Empowerment Foundation. CLP coordinator Mr. Ajoy K. Bose received the certificate of recognition from Mr. Wasantha Deshapriya, Director, ICTA, Sri Lanka, a jury member of The Manthan Award South Asia, on 19th December, 2009 at New Delhi in India.

Conclusion
It is very clear that the Dream of Digital Bangladesh will not come into light, if the integrating of ICT in Education is not possible. From the very beginning era of ICT integration into education sector to till now, different initiatives have been taken by different countries and organizations through different programmes and projects. The Government of Bangladesh is also initiating to step toward the same path with vision of Digital Bangladesh. Alongside of Government initiative, some non-government initiatives are also mentionable. VAB-NJ and D.Net’s CLP initiative is one of them. From 2004 to till now CLP is going ahead for bridging the digital divide.

References
[1] Raihan, A. “ICT for Development: The Immediate Doables”, In the Conference on Development with Equity and Justice: Immediate Tasks for the Newly Elected Government; Centre For Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka, Bangladesh; 28-29 March, 2009.
[2] Habib, S.M.A., Editor. “Towards Knowledge Society: A Handbook of Selected Initiatives in South Asia”, 1st ed. Dhaka, Bangladesh: D.Net; 2007.
[3] Gayen, S.K. “Computer Literacy Program: A Step towards a Digital Bangladesh”, Forum, a monthly publication of The Daily Star, Vol – 3, Issue-9, September, 2009.


Authors: Head of  Institutional Affairs, D.Net Net (Development Research Network), [email protected] and Assistant Director, D.Net Net (Development Research Network), [email protected]

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2 Comments

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