Online education and artificial intelligence


What can Bangladesh learn from China and the United States?

No one should miss out on education for lack of digital connectivity.

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No one should miss out on education for lack of digital connectivity.

As we all know, Covid-19 hit Wuhan on New Years Eve in 2019, and the city has passed a full lockdown. Soon the rest of China and the world followed suit. But what many don’t know is that Chinese education has never been blocked.

In less than three months, Peking Normal University (BNU) started a new semester offering more than 3,000 online courses. The BNU was only able to do this due to the push of China’s Comprehensive Education Technology (EdTech) in previous years, as Oxford Internet Institute blog post elaborates. With EdTech, China has combined computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to further education. In 2017, she adopted the vision to become a global leader in EdTech and Artificial Intelligence (AI), with top priority on the implementation of AI solutions in the education sector. In 2018, Zhejiang University on the east coast of China had already built smart classes equipped with audio recognition and simultaneous interpretation. When the pandemic hit, all tools were ready for video conference recording or live streaming. It wasn’t just universities; Most Chinese primary and secondary schools also opened online schools on February 9, 2020 with nearly 200 million students.

How did Beijing pull off such a phenomenal feat? According to a UNESCO article, “How does China ensure learning when classes are disrupted by the coronavirus?“The Chinese government has mobilized all relevant ministries, private entities and telecommunications companies, and especially teachers and students. It has also launched 22 repositories of free and validated AI-based online courses. Schools and teachers have chosen appropriate delivery channels based on e- But China’s EdTech push has also underscored its profound Numeric fraction. In 2018, many schools in remote areas did not have reliable internet connections. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has started providing each public school with a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbits to overcome this problem, achieve 95 percent coverage in April of this year.

The search for internet learning has also attracted many large companies, such as Alibaba and Tencent (both tech giants) and SoftBank Group (Japanese multinational conglomerate), to the lucrative online private tutoring market. China. They each launched one or more EdTech platforms and deployed all means to secure market share. With the willingness of Chinese parents to spend extra money on children’s education, such practices triggered intense competition in the market. Online tutoring and homework have kept students busy weekends and vacations creating an unbearable situation. The trend prompted the MOE to set up a division oversee all private EdTech platforms. Beijing also launched a crackdown on large corporations, several of which had become unicorn companies (private companies valued at over $ 1 billion) such as listed by Holoniq.com.

The United States is the other country where EdTech has seen a boom spawning unicorn companies such as Articulate and Udemy. It already benefits from a long-standing public education infrastructure including schools, public administration, funding, parent-teacher committees, etc. After the start of the pandemic, EdTech added value to the existing system by providing technology products and services to facilitate learning and administration. Students, parents, teachers and administrators use technology for meetings, registrations, attendance, student support, counseling and feedback. But the digital divide is also a problem in the United States, as Boston Consulting Group Reports. Almost 30 percent of K-12 students can’t attend school online because they couldn’t afford a proper internet connection or appropriate devices.

How do Chinese and American EdTech engines compare and what is their relevance for Bangladesh? China has embraced a paradigm shift and introduced AI, making remarkable strides in public education through EdTech. On the other hand, the United States has further strengthened its existing education system with EdTech. A Forbes article asserts that the US system is bottom-up, while the Chinese approach is delivered centrally with a top-down approach. Whatever their policies, Bangladesh must learn from these experiences and solve its problems with solutions that focus on local situations. His education is stuck in the pandemic, and scientists predict such pandemics more in the future. Most Bangladeshi schools and universities have launched online courses and exams. Yet none have found a reasonable solution that can replace the in-person experience. Students attend classes and take exams with poor internet connections with insufficient devices, often unable to keep up or communicate with teachers. Mobile data is running out quickly and students have to go out to purchase additional packs. It is an untenable situation and education in Bangladesh is in danger.

Fortunately, Bangladesh also has some advantages. Several NGOs, such as Brac, specialize in education through a network of schools, teachers and volunteers. There is also the educational infrastructure of the government up to the level of upazila. Two fully-fledged ministries are responsible for providing education from kindergarten to grade 12 and above. There are already a few Bangladeshi EdTech initiatives ready to help this sector. What actions can Bangladesh take to embrace education for all in the digital age? Here are some ideas.

First, adopt a vision to implement education digitally regardless of the pandemic situation. Second, prepare a policy to implement it. Third, mobilize all professionals such as students, teachers, subject matter specialists, educators and educational experts. Include social influencers such as NGOs, political leaders and mass media in the process. Third, use infrastructure providers like telecom companies, internet service providers, cloud platforms, and hardware manufacturers. Fourth, set up a research center on AI and augmented reality for applications in education. These are not entirely new ideas, however. The government of Bangladesh has already adopted a policy to implement the vision of “digital Bangladesh”. All it takes is a vision to deliver quality education through online platforms.

No one should miss out on education for lack of digital connectivity. Feedback from factories and businesses is easy to see, and there is a powerful lobby to make it work. But the benefits of education are long term and profound. Suspending education for any period can cause irreparable damage, wiping out decades of progress.

Dr Sayeed Ahmed is a consulting engineer and freelance writer.


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