At the height of the global pandemic, when person schooling had been rendered obsolete in most parts of the world, there was an unprecedented proliferation of online education, with many educational institutions delivering their pedagogy virtually during the lockdown. However, online education is contingent on the availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and equipment which are expensive and have placed developing countries such as Bangladesh, particularly rural areas, in a highly disadvantaged position.
While the pandemic had an adverse impact on learning and equity, it also provided an opportunity to rethink the way students are educated. To explore this, the UNDP Accelerator Lab joined hands with the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB) – a grassroots organization dedicated to rural education since 2000 - to pilot an innovative E-Learning project. It is assisting rural and disadvantaged high school students from 9 schools across five districts - the majority being girls - on their preparation for the upcoming 2021 national secondary school certificate (SSC) examination through e-learning via tablets and digital contents. The UNDP Accelerator Lab’s support for this initiative came through one distinguishing feature of the tablets, an innovative built-in app, called the Learning Management System (LMS), in which relevant contents for the SSC exams have been uploaded. The application contains a total of 133 video lectures, 38 scripts, and 80 tests on the three science subjects on which the 2021 SSC exam is being held – Physics, Chemistry and Biology. For the 2022 SSC candidates, contents of two other subjects – English and General Mathematics – have been uploaded.
Through this pilot, the Lab aims to support access to and continuation of education of disadvantaged rural students, especially young girls, and technology diffusion in rural areas, and at also explore what works and what doesn’t around E-learning in a rural environment.
On October 1, 2021, the tablets were distributed to 191 students, of whom 158 are SSC candidates for 2021 and 33 are SSC candidates for 2022. UNDP’s partner VAB has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) with all 9 schools that students must return the tabs after the SSC examination so that those could be re-used in future batches. Students deposited a small security money (Tk 500 or Tk 1000 depending on affordability) to a maintenance fund to the schools for repair in case tabs are damaged. Whenever possible, a single tablet is shared by multiple users.
The app prevents students from misusing the Internet beyond educational purposes. To this end, a Monitoring and Evaluation System has been installed which tracks hours spent by students on videos, scripts and tests related to the learning contents. As of 15 Nov 2021, a total of 12,709 hours have been spent by 191 students on lectures (10,485 hours), scripts (1,853 hours), and tests (371 hours) through the tabs.
On completion of the pilot, UNDP Bangladesh Accelerator Lab and VAB will jointly analyze critical data on the learning behavior and performance of students through the LMS, to better understand what works and what doesn’t work. Some of the key learning questions are:
· How is the overall school performance in different areas?
· How does student performance vary by subject?
· How girls are faring compared to boys?
This would subsequently allow the Accelerator Lab and VAB to improve the design of the project and develop an effective scale-up project in the future to address the educational needs of students in rural Bangladesh, utilizing technology
Students and Science Teachers of Bhangura Jarina-Rahim Girls’ High School, Bhangura, Pabna
Students and Science teachers of Nageshwari Adarsha Pilot Girls’ High School, Nageshari, Kurigram with the tablets distributed to them.