Every year the British Council hosts ‘Going Global’, an event for leaders in international education to debate the future of further and higher education. This year’s event, which was due to be held in London, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was instead delivered digitally, throughout June. The conference theme for this year was ‘Global learners, global innovation,’ with a special focus on the major impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on the education sector.

Following on from the virtual conference, on 29 June, the British Council’s Higher Education team in Bangladesh organised an online discussion titled ‘Continuing academic activities online in higher education institutions.’

The session focused on how universities in Bangladesh are ensuring quality teaching online during this global pandemic, and explored the pedagogy, methods, assessments, tools and models required to maximise the effects of a virtual learning environment. The session further explored how this current crisis may shift and shape the future of the entire education ecosystem in Bangladesh and beyond.Chaired by David Maynard, Director English and Education, British Council Bangladesh, the session brought together experts from top public and private universities in Bangladesh which include BRAC, Bangladesh Open University, Green University and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. a2i, a special programme of the Bangladesh government’s Digital Bangladesh agenda, also participated in this session.

The session kicked off with a presentation from Prof. Dr M A Mannan, Vice Chancellor, Bangladesh Open University, where he spoke about the internal and external prerequisites for online education. He stressed on the importance of redesigning the curriculum and the formation of dedicated content development teams and appropriate delivery tools as internal prerequisites for online education. He also spoke about the development of institutional repositories to ensure long-term sustainability. As for external prerequisites, he mentioned access to appropriate devices and uninterrupted internet connectivity for students and teachers. He also spoke about the immediate need to formulate a national online education policy/e-learning policy and national open educational resources (OER) policy, which Bangladesh currently does not have. He said, it is crucial that these policies are in place as online education is here to stay and will continue even after the pandemic is over.

Next off, Md Afzal Hossain Sarwar, Policy Specialist, Head – Future of learning from a2i gave an overview of the current situation of teaching and learning in Bangladesh due to the global pandemic and the Government of Bangladesh’s initiatives to facilitate online learning in tertiary education and skills development.

Over 41.9 million learners are affected due to the current crisis, out of which around 3.3 million are in tertiary education. While online classes are being delivered through platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft teams, most institutions do not have an online Learning Management System (LMS). As a result, continuation of regular academic activities such as assessment, quiz, assignment, exam, etc. are no longer possible and there are no systems in place to record attendance and monitor activities and performance of students and teachers. As a response to this, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and ICT Division, a2i is working on the development of a virtual classroom platform by incorporating things that will help mimic a traditional classroom, such as interactive live classes, attendance register, online assessments, discussion boards, lecture repository and performance reports, to name a few. 

‘’Compared to global LMS platforms such as Blackboard, Canvas and Brightspace, our application is specifically tailored to meet the needs of learners in Bangladesh’’ – Md Afzal Hossain Sarwar, Policy Specialist, Head – Future of learning, a2i

As the event proceeded, Professor Mahbub Majumder from BRAC University spoke about buX, the university’s online learning platform which it is using to deal with the current situation. Both the main site and training site are up, faculty training is largely completed and BRAC is currently in the process of onboarding students. Some of the key features of this platform include offline viewing, integrated assignments and grading, and user-friendliness. Mahbub further spoke about some of the opportunities that online education presents such as using new teaching pedagogies, modernising course materials, raising teaching standards and consolidating teaching materials. 

‘’The philosophy behind buX is to make online learning interactive and fun for students.’’ – Professor Mahbub Majumder, BRAC University.

Hasan Al Zubayer Rony, Coordinator, Green University Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (GUCETL)  spoke about some of the initiatives Green University is taking with regards to ensuring quality education online and the challenges the university has faced in the process. GUB has formed an E-learning committee, which is actively working on the development of a platform for conducting online classes, assessment and evaluation, and monitoring and administration. The E-learning committee has also formulated an e-learning policy for the university. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has made paid Zoom accounts available for GUB’s faculty members. GUB is now training its faculty members on Zoom and is also running demo classes. GUCETL has also provided a report to UGC proposing potential assessment strategies for universities in these uncertain and unprecedented times.Some of the challenges GUB has faced during its transition from face-to-face to online classes include lack of experience in conducting online classes amongst faculty members, an experimental approach due to the current situation rather than a guided standardised plan and lack of existing e-learning infrastructure, among other things.

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