2021 marked the 50 years celebration of Bangladesh’s liberation and in half a century, Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in attaining a high literacy rate across the nation.  In a country of over 18 million primary school students, a 98% universal net enrollment rate has been an incredible feat for the young nation. [1] Bangladesh is soon to graduate from an LDC status and education has played a vital part in this culmination. To increase participation and improve learning outcomes, in 2010 Bangladesh government adopted a new and ambitious national education policy which introduced one year of compulsory preschool education and extended the duration of compulsory education from grade 5 to 8. The government took on various notable projects increasing the number of schools in remote rural districts and used considerable resources into improving education, however, many policies and reforms are yet to materialize due to inadequate fund utilization and other management inefficiencies. Classrooms still remain small for the large group of students and the capacity of teachers is not at the desired level.  In 2018, Bangladesh achieved its lowest pupil-teacher ratio. The average number of pupils per teacher was recorded at 30:1. [2]

Likewise, the adult literacy rate surged from 35% in 1991 to 73% in 2017. Although the numbers look good, the quality of teachers and education is questionable which leads to quality deterioration in education and eventually poor learning outcomes and dropouts. The deputy director of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) pointed out that teachers did not follow the prescribed teaching-learning process and added that many teachers were not qualified even sometimes motivated enough. The shortage of teachers has also been reported by DPE’s (Directorate of Primary Education) sector performance report. A USAID-funded assessment in spring 2018 found that nearly 44% of students who finish the first grade are unable to read their first word. Similarly, 27% of third-grade students fail to read with comprehension. These poor learning outcomes work as a catalyst to grade repetitions and student dropouts as families suffering from chronic poverty become reluctant in schooling and 20% of all students drop out before completing their fifth grade [3]. According to the primary education census 2018, around 20.8 million students were enrolled from pre-primary grade to grade five. However, around 20% of these students did not sit for the Primary Exam Certificate (PEC) or Ebtedayee Exam Certificate (EEC) examinationThe completion rate of the primary school cycle in 2018 was 81.40%. Then again, 37.81% of these students dropped out before finishing secondary education claims a 2018 report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics. [4] 

The factors behind these dreadful records are inordinate. Poor infrastructure, shortage of trained teachers, malnutrition, climate change, poverty, technological penetration, etc. are valid issues that need to be addressed immediately. The government should not cut corners in terms of their expenditure on education. The allocation of budget in FY 2021-2022 has been appreciated by 7% to BDT 719.53 billion than the previous year with around BDT 263.1 billion allocated for primary education. However, the amount allocated for primary education as a percentage of GDP dropped to 2.09% from last year’s 2.14%. [5]

Government Expenditure on Education, % of Total GDP
Fig. Government Expenditure on Education, Total of GDP / Source: World Bank Data, The Daily Star

This is not a shrewd move as the allocation of the percentage of GDP in education is the lowest in Bangladesh among all South Asia.

As ways to elicit the best learning outcomes by keeping in mind the future goal of digitizing Bangladesh, the government of Bangladesh with alignment with the education ministry planned some changes to the system. One of which is the inclusion of programming in primary education. The plan also intends to generate interest in robotics, artificial intelligence among teachers and students. The announcement was made by the state minister of information and communication and technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak who intends to put it into practice from the next academic year. He also aims to address the ICT education of underprivileged women by providing them computer training and free laptops. [6] The government wants to acknowledge the worldwide move towards the fourth industrial revolution which is led by automation and digital education. This will be an effective addition to the primary school curriculum as coding knowledge will shape children for the upcoming period.

Bangladesh’s move towards the fourth industrial revolution

The fourth industrial revolution is a prolongation of the third one. It has outpaced all other industrial revolutions evolving at an exponential rate. The present world functions with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, lightning-fast internet, and connectivity with unlimited access to knowledge and resources. Businesses, healthcare, education, lifestyle have been vastly empowered by technology. Innovation in these sectors with more in the queue will be multiplied by emerging technological breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, IoT (Internet of things), robotics, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, energy science, data science, material science, etc. According to World Economic Forum, the fourth industrial revolution holds the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life around the world. To withstand the wave of innovation, nations must equip their future generation with technological education. [7]

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Bangladesh has been making efforts in this regard while keeping in mind the future SDG goals as well. Bangladesh has been making progress in the ITES sector particularly freelancing and outsourcing, as well as software development. According to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) in 2017, Bangladesh became the second largest supplier of online laborAmong 650,000 freelancers around 500,000 are working regularly enabling the economy to generate $100 million annually, according to the ICT division of Bangladesh. The outsourcing industry in Bangladesh is also acclaimed globally being ranked 21st in IT outsourcing, business process outsourcing, and software development according to the Global Location Service Index, a market analysis tool offered by AT Karney (2019). Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO) states that more than 40,000 people were working in the outsourcing industry generating more than $300 million every year. Software companies like Data Soft, Reve System, Tiger IT are highly considered software brands exporting software in places like the US, Netherlands, Norway, Finland, England, the USA, Ukraine, Belarus, and African nations. [8] Despite the growing tech-based platforms, most of the services are considered low-value services. Bangladesh on the verge of graduating from an LDC status mainly attracts the world for providing a good service at a reasonable cost as employment wages here are lower. 

The recent addition of coding into the curriculum will assist these sectors greatly. Coding is said to develop cognitive skills. It engenders complex problem-solving skills, technology design, analytical thinking, and innovation. The imminent era will require common coding skills from everyone to operate various tasks. Hence, teaching programming at primary schools will be a great start towards embracing the 4th industrial revolution. According to Forbes, there are 8 things every school must do to prepare themselves for the coming industrial revolution. One of which is redefining the purpose of education, meaning adjusting education systems to the coming demands. Improving STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) education is also key which includes programming. Altering educator training is another important point which suggests as American philosopher John Dewey said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Therefore, we need to develop new methods and reforms to embrace the transition into the 4th industrial revolution. Another key fact the article stated was to develop human potential. Programming helps students to think better. It opens the windows to various career tracks for an ambitious student helping to unfold potential. [9] Therefore, coding has been added to the curriculum in schools of England. They were the first country in the European Union to mandate computer science classes for children aged 5-16. Countries like Italy, Finland, Estonia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Ireland, Greece, etc. have followed the same direction. In Asia, Singapore is way ahead in this regard. Therefore, the reform of incorporating coding in the primary curriculum of Bangladesh will act as an essential policy in approaching the fourth industrial revolution.

How far is Bangladesh in implementing the idea?

Previously, in 2010 the government took on the project to set up modern labs and internet connections in 1,400 educational institutions as part of pursuing the vision of a digital Bangladesh. A modern computer lab with 16 computers was installed in 64 colleges and the same number of schools in 64 districts. Among them, at 96 educational institutions in 48 districts, modern computer training labs were set up with dial-up internet connections. [10] Again in 2017, all 65,000 government primary schools were selected to be provided with multimedia classrooms. However, there were remote areas with no constant electricity. They would require the help of solar energy described by government officials. The government also introduced “Teachers’ Portal” a platform where teachers of all education levels could share digital content for multimedia classrooms and develop the contents through peer-reviews. Teachers were also given two weeks of training to produce quality content. [11]

Moreover, during the 2017 academic year around 20,000 computer labs were set up. In addition, ICT training and resource center (UTTRCE) was established in 125 Upazilas and around 37,000 teachers received ICT training from these institutes in the year 2017-2018. To endorse ICT education, 17 ICT mobile vans were launched along with digital language laboratories. [12] In 2020, the government further decided to set up 5,000 more digital labs but this time they focused on secondary education to conduce expected outcomes through programming and computer studies. [13] 

Challenges in the incorporation of programming

Despite the government’s efforts in amplifying ICT education, there are some drawbacks. Digitization in classrooms cannot suffice because in rural areas people have less access to the internet smartphones and computers/laptops. There is also a prevalent digital gender divide in rural areas of Bangladesh where women have lesser access to these components. 

  1. Lack of essential equipment needed in digital learning 

To learn to program, one needs access to a computer or a laptop, fast internet for access to resources, electricity. However, in households outside of Dhaka and in remote areas, there is barely any network on mobile phones. This will keep students pent-up from receiving the education the government is planning on providing. According to the Multiple Index Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019 conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, only 5.6% of households own a computer with 50.6% of households having access to televisions. The ownerships of computers and television are subject to a few factors like areas (rural or urban), division, and wealth index. The MICS report showed that only 0.4% of the poorest quintile in the wealth index has access to computers compared to 21% of the richest quintile. In terms of television sets, only 4.8% of the poorest quintile owned a television compared to 90.2% of the richest quintile

Ownership of television and computer in terms of wealth index
Figure 2: Ownership of television and computer in terms of wealth index / Source: MICS 2019

2. Technological inequality leading to a knowledge inequality 

With the surging economy, income inequality is rising concurrently. As a result, upper-income households are getting easy access to technology hence education, but the lower-income households are lacking access to such facilities. Such discrepancy is creating a knowledge inequality among students. The same case can be considered in terms of teachers who are new to the use of technological equipment. The megacities of the country have tech hubs where one can get access to fast and expensive broadband internet with computer stores as well. The same cannot be said about remote areas in Bangladesh. [14]

3. Low internet penetration 

According to the World Bank, in 2019 only 12.9% of the whole population in Bangladesh has internet access. This was lower than it was last recorded in 2016 which was around 18.25%. [15]

Internet penetration in population by percentage
 Figure 3: Internet penetration in population by percentage / Source: World Bank Data

The country lies behind Sri Lanka and India in terms of internet penetration according to the 2016 data. The country also has the second-highest cost of internet in South Asia next to the Maldives. 

4. Quality of teachers

Despite a lot of government-authorized training, many teachers are left underqualified. From a survey conducted in 2019, the National Student Assessment (NSA) found that 38% of 3rd– grade students had proficiency in Bangla with only 9% students having advanced knowledge. Similarly, in 5th grade, 36% of students in the same subject had proficiency with 8% being at the advanced level. In math, 3rd– grade students had 25% proficiency and 9% at the advanced level. Such outcomes in learning are the result of poorly trained teachers. Programming being an intricate subject cannot be taught by a pool of untrained teachers rather it will impede the implementation of the coming plan. There are also problems like incentivizing a computer science graduate into primary school teaching. At present, computer science courses are only taught in tertiary education which in private institutions are quite expensive. Therefore, there must be enough on the plate for a graduate to venture into primary school teaching. This is also an alarming issue at hand. [16]

5. Gender parity in technology and education

Although Bangladesh has progressed a lot in narrowing the gender gap in sectors like education, labor participation, income levels, etc. the present digital gender divide undermines the progress. According to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) 2020, data shows that Bangladesh has a 20% gender gap in the use of mobile phones and 52% in the use of the cellular internet. A survey was conducted by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) in 2021 on the most digitally able person of a household with a sample size of 6,500 households. 63% of the household selects were men and 37% were women considered as the most digitally able person in the household. Among them, 41% of men had access to smartphones in comparison to 37% of women. Moreover, 11% of men had access to a computer whereas only 3% of women had the same ability. [17] 

Digital Gender Divide in ICT Access and Usage
Digital Gender Divide in ICT Access and Usage

The results proved that women are two times less likely to be the most digitally able person of a household and even if they are selected such, they are less likely to have access to technology than their male counterparts

Strategies to overcome the challenges

We have listed the most prominent obstacles which will need remedies if the country hopes to accomplish the best out of the new reform. These challenges should be ameliorated prior to the implementation of the plan. Here are some strategies:

  1. Coordination among the education ministry and other ministries and better coordination of ICT education initiatives – If the partnerships are strong, they will not duplicate the efforts of individual initiatives rather act as complements to one another. This way small-scale but achievable initiatives or projects could be scaled up nationwide. 
  2. Better technical support for teachers – There have been many reports where teachers were not sure where to go when something happens to their computer or projector. This issue of accountability should be addressed as well as basic hardware training can be offered. 
  3. Utilizing the on-demand and existing equipment for learning in households – The government can use available digital equipment like increasing smartphone penetration as there are more mobile phone users, to provide online learning facilities and coding content. Furthermore, the government can partner up with telecommunications providers to offer subsidized data plans for students [14]
  4. Increasing teaching competencies and incentivizing fresh graduates to become teachers – Although the government is providing comprehensive training on digital education, they must make those training modules effective so that the teachers can learn from one another being part of a multiplier effect in the longer run. Moreover, the focus should also be on fresh graduates and how to intrigue them into teaching how to code. They can also provide basic programming training to primary teachers and build them up as basic programming trainers.
  5. Better pedagogical support for teachers using ICT for teaching and learning – Scripted/ detailed ICT-enabled teaching and learning modules are included in pedagogical support. This is where teachers will be guided to implement ICT-enabled lessons. Mobile applications could be also used to provide more personal support. Despite following scripts, the teachers will learn along the way.
  6. Use of more technology – Localized and modified intelligent tutoring systems, ICT mediated resources, and video recorded lessons can also be used as efficient teaching techniques. The intelligent tutoring system records student’s knowledge that is updated with every student transaction. It also assists in finding alternative learning paths. Although this can be slightly expensive it can help in teaching coding. 
  7. Monitoring and evaluating the use of ICT in schools – There should be proper arbiters to oversee the whole teaching process and audit the use of ICT in schools. From proper evaluation and monitoring, the country can develop its processes further. 
  8. Endorsement of ICT education-related citizen services – However, while this can be used to increase ICT literacy it would be unique to find a way to incorporate programming through this concept. 
  9. Adopting international techniques – Imagine Worldwide has worked with partners to develop high-quality, tech-enabled literacy programs that cost less than $25 per student per year. We can adopt such processes.
  10. Affiliating with various e-learning platforms in Bangladesh to provide quality training and coding content – Emerging e-learning platforms like 10 Minute School, Upskill, Bohubrihi, etc. have a particular way of teaching programming and other subjects. Government can partner with these ed-tech and e-learning platforms to subsidize or come up with new programming courses for kids, train teachers, create platforms to teach in remote areas, etc. [18].

Samin Mahmud Khan, Content Writer, and Sanjir Ali, Senior Business Consultant & Project Manager, at LightCastle Partners, have prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

References

  • 1. School Enrollment, primary (% net) –  Bangladesh –  World Bank Data
  • 2. Pupil-teacher ratio, primary – Bangladesh – World Bank Data
  • 3. Education – USAID
  • 4. Primary Education in Bangladesh – ADRA
  • 5. Overview of the National Budget for the FY 2021-22 – LightCastle Partners
  • 6. ‘Programming, coding in primary education from next year’ – Dhaka Tribune
  • 7. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond – World Economic Forum
  • 8. Programming in Primary Education: Latent Economic Opportunities –  LightCastle Partners
  • 9. 8 Things Every School Must Do To Prepare For The 4th Industrial Revolution – Forbes
  • 10. Govt to set up computer labs at 1,400 education institutions – The Daily Star
  • 11. All government primary schools to get multimedia classrooms – Dhaka Tribune
  • 12. ICT in education: Its impact analysis – The Daily Sun
  • 13. 5000 more digital labs to be set up in secondary schools – The Business Standard
  • 14. Digitalization of the education system- why hasn’t Bangladesh achieved it yet? – DATABD
  • 15. Share of The Population Using the Internet – Our World in Data
  • 16. Primary Education Quality: Long way to go – The Daily Star
  • 17. Understanding the Digital Gender Divide in Rural Bangladesh: How Wide It Is and Why – BRAC Institute of Governance and Development
  • 18. Innovative Strategies for Accelerated Human Resource Development in South Asia: Information and Communication Technology for Education—Special Focus on Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – Asian Development Bank
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