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					                     Community Communications Online

Network Learning in Bangladesh
Consultancy report

Prepared by Andrew Garton and Bruce Morrison
Community Communications Online

INTRODUCTION                                                                                        1
OVERVIEW                                                                                            2
NETWORK LEARNING IN BANGLADESH                                                                      4
SUMMARY                                                                                             5
APPENDIX 1                                                                                          6
THE AUTHORS                                                                                         6


This is a report on the viability of network learning in Bangladesh. The consultants, Andrew Garton
and Bruce Morrison (Community Communications Online, Australia) reviewed the activities of the
LEARN Foundation, specifically their computer literacy course initiated in October 1997 (DRIK-
LEARN Initiative). The course began in a remote village school in Durgapasha, Sunamganj, Sylhet.
Since then, five schools, 1400 students and five teachers from the region now participate in the

From July 26 to August 2 we visited five schools participating in the embryonic DRIK-LEARN
Initiative in rural Sylhet (see Appendix 1). The aim of the Initiative is to increase the intellectual
capacity of its students by providing them with computer and English language skills. It is envisaged
that this would eventually provide them with employment and self-employment opportunities in the
burgeoning Bangladeshi IT industry.

We took time out in the Siranjnagar Tea Estate and spent a day touring the slums of Dhaka where a
small number of children are reshaping the future of their communities with cameras and the support of
Shahidul Alam, founder of the innovative DRIK Picture Library. Finally, we spent a day at DRIK
assisting in the drafting of a project development grant application for the DRIK - Learn Initiative.

The study tour and this report has been commissioned by the Open Enterprise as a component of their
IDRC funded R&D project, Network Learning in Bangladesh.

We visited five rural schools all up. At each school we had the opportunity to meet with and interview
students, teachers, guardians (parents1), community leaders and school administrators. Ten schools
were mooted to participate in the DRIK-LEARN Initiative, but as we were to later discover, the
capacity to deliver to any more than five would stretch available resources

All current courses are coordinated, administered and led by Mr. Imran Rasheed, a founding Director
of the LEARN Foundation. At the time of writing, Mr. Rasheed was the only trainer providing full
time tuition to participating schools. He lives in Dhaka and travels frequently to Sylhet to provide his
students with their weekly or fortnightly lessons. His commitment to his students, his concerted efforts
to reach them and his intuitive knowledge of their needs is second to none. He also speaks the local

At the time of writing, 1500 students were enrolled in the computer course. Aged from 10 to 16, classes
from grades 7 to 12 attended the often-packed and humble classrooms. According to local sources, the
Bangladesh government provides little to no support. These schools rely largely on the capacity of their
communities to support them.

These schools varied in their proximity to wealthier communities. Some were obviously better
resourced than others, however, they all shared the following needs, identified during interviews with
the students in particular:

-     Hands-on access to computers
-     Written computer course materials in both Bangla and English
-     English literacy lessons
-     Internet access
-     More courses (students willing to attend after hours, during breaks and holidays)
-     Training for teachers
-     After hour courses for parents and unemployed youth
-     Courses for neighboring villages
-     Commitment and passion to learn

All the students we met displayed a desperation and hunger to learn. The computer classes currently
being held are not part of the regular school curriculum, therefore classes are generally held after
school and on Fridays (equivalent of the western weekend). Classes overflow, with students turning up
by boat when the floodwaters rise.

Four of the schools have at least one computer, but access is limited and hands-on tuition is generally
unavailable. Students are taught the basics of computers, programming, word processing and other
Microsoft Office applications. These lessons are conducted using paper and pencils with students rarely
getting significant time on a computer themselves.

The overwhelming majority of people we spoke to saw computer training as a means of economic
betterment. Equivalent training in Dhaka is quite expensive involving both course costs and living
expenses. Due to the high cost of computer training, the scarcity of courses and the poor access to
resources to support both courses and students, it is essential that any school curriculum developed
have a strong bias towards practical applications, both on a community and individual basis.

Internet connectivity is an extremely important factor in the project. When students were asked whether
they would prefer more computers or access to the Internet the answer was resoundingly in favor of
Internet access in all cases. Internet access is seen as a means of communicating with the outside world
in particular with expatriates the world over.

Most students had grander expectations of what the Internet would bring them – employment for
graduating students and prosperity for the community. We felt their knowledge of what the Internet

    Fathers only were present at these meetings. We were never to meet any of the student’ mothers.

981116_report_drik.doc                                                                            Page 2 of 6
would bring them was largely based in what they had been told by Mr. Rasheed. From what we could
tell, not one of the students had seen a live, online web page, nor had any of them used email.

The DRIK/LEARN project is currently in its formative stages. There is no Internet connectivity and
computers are transported to those schools without them for classes. These computers are then taken to
the next school when the class is over, leaving students with out the hardware they need to try out their
new found skills.

One obstacle to teaching computer skills in the Sylhet region is the local dialect. The student's first
language is their regional tongue. Most students understand Bangla. Some of them have a basic grasp
of English. The students prefer to be taught in their native dialect in addition to extensive English
language skill tuition. Local language support materials and teachers from the region are both a rarity.
Mr. Rasheed speaks the local dialect, an asset that has contributed greatly to the support and trust these
communities have of the LEARN Foundation.

The power supply in Bangladesh is problematic with load shedding and blackouts a common
occurrence. As the computer classes are schedules for specific time and there is quite an effort involved
in bringing one together it would be disastrous for students to be denied a lesson due to power
problems. When the power is on it fluctuates and has the potential of damaging electronic equipment.
The use of power smoothing devices would increase the life span of computer equipment.

981116_report_drik.doc                                                                              Page 3 of 6
Network Learning in Bangladesh

This report was commissioned by the Open Foundation, as a component of their project entitled,
“Network Learning in Bangladesh”. It should be noted that this project assumes the existence of
“network education” in Bangladesh (see Section 1.1 Project Background, Network Learning for

In addition, the project also assumes that the DRIK-LEARN Initiative is itself an emergent network.
We discovered that not only was there no school based computer network, there were barely any
computers available for students to be taught on at all. As far as we were able to ascertain, there were
no visible signs of online learning in the schools of Sylhet.

Section 1.5 of the Project Background suggests that the project will “address the need to provide
suitable learning multimedia software for Bangladesh.” Access to computers, tutors, manuals and other
learning materials in their own language should be given far greater priority than multimedia based
learning tools. As of July 98, there is barely any infrastructure available to the DRIK-LEARN Initiative
to increase the number of schools and students wishing to participate in the program.

The limited availability of computers has meant students have little or no hands-on time with a
computer. This situation must improve before developing significant specific computer aided learning
materials. Learning about how to use computers and operating systems is similar to learning a new
language - unless that language is understood in a fairly in-depth way there is no point in teaching
secondary lessons. If adequate access to facilities is available then this process can happen quite

Section 3.2.2 of the Project Methodology proposes the “production and adaptation of creative learning
materials and adoption of overseas “off the shelf” materials to meet the established needs of the Sylhet
network, and by then, other educational networks in Bangladesh.”

We recommend that any curriculum development towards the integration of online learning tools and
methodologies be done with the involvement of the established International Education and Resource
Network (I*EARN). I*EARN has extensive experience in the creation and delivery of networked based
learning materials in the developing world. For more information regarding I*EARN visit their web

We do not recommend the production and adaptation of “creative learning materials” in the short to
medium term. We do however, recommend the establishment a pilot project directed towards the
development and strengthening of networking infrastructure, basing its sustainability on the experience
already gained in the field.

The pilot would also assist in galvanizing the DRIK-LEARN Initiative efforts into a sustainable model
for a rural learning network in Bangladesh providing students initially with access to existing materials
created for both text / email and Web usage.


981116_report_drik.doc                                                                             Page 4 of 6

It is recommended that the DRIK-LEARN Initiative is nurtured and given resources to enable the
Sylhetie communities to gain access to these resources. The challenges involved should be monitored,
as they will provide a good model for other programs in regions similar to this one.

One of the unique features about the DRIK-LEARN Initiative is that the sustainability and funding of
the project has been taken into account. Initial seed funding is required to help setup the project but
ongoing costs will be meet by the families of the students. Details of this can be found in the TEEF
(Tree Education Endowment Fund) documents found on the LEARN Web site3. The community was
also interested in participating in paid after hour’ courses.

There are several essential areas in which help is required. These are:

-     An increase in the availability of computers
-     Learning to use a computer is very much a hands on experience.
-     An increase in the number of qualified teachers
-     Currently the DRIK - Learn Initiative relies on one teacher. It is essential that the number of
      teachers be increased to ensure that face-to-face lessons can continue to take place.
-     A curriculum that suits the needs of the community
-     A study into available communications infrastructure

Before leaving Bangladesh we assisted in the preparation of a funding proposal towards the
establishment of a prototype education network for Sylhet - a Pilot Rural Networking Project.

It is anticipated that the Pilot Project would become a model for network learning in rural Bangladesh
and similar regions. The funding would provide for hardware, network connectivity and personnel
training towards the provision of computer and English literacy courses to five nominated schools in
the Sylhet district.

The Pilot Project would build on the success of the computer literacy course initiated in October 1997
by the LEARN Foundation. The course began in a remote village school in Durgapasha, Sunamganj,
Sylhet. Since then, five schools, 1400 students and five teachers from the region now participate in this

The Pilot Project would consist of the establishment and maintenance of a network hub in Sylhet Town
and a distributed network of computers and local servers to be installed at the participating schools. The
Project would be closely monitored with frequent reporting conducted by the representative from the
LEARN Foundation and select students from the participating schools.


981116_report_drik.doc                                                                              Page 5 of 6
Appendix 1

Schools visited during Network Learning in Bangladesh Study Tour

Schools                        Students    Classes Days Teachers         Comp        Tel     Power
Abdur Rasheed High School      95          7-8-9-10- 2  1                2 386       No      Yes
                                           11-12                         2 Pentium
Dhakka Dhakkin School          360         7-8-9-10     2                1           Yes     Yes
Kulara Girls School            120         7-8-9-10     1                0           Yes     Yes
Nasiruddin High School         320         7-8-9-10 2   1                1           Yes     Yes
Ranaping High School           200         7-8-9-10     0                1           Yes     Yes

Schools       Schools visited by consultants.
Students      Number of students p/school participating in computer course.
Classes       Students from Years 7 through to 12 participating in course.
Days          Number of days the course is held p/week.
Teachers      Number of teachers participating in course.
Comp          Availability of computers p/school.
Tel           Availability of telephones for dial-up.
Power         Availability of power. Note, reliable and consistent access to power is generally
              unavailable throughout Sylhet. All power usage must be supplemented with a locally
              accessible generator or, at the very least an uninterrupted power supply (UPS).

The Authors

Andrew Garton

Andrew Garton is a composer, writer and Internet consultant. He has a background in community based
computer networking and has worked throughout Southeast Asia. Andrew is also founder and principal
artist of the electroacoustic and generative sound label, Secession Records, and Creative Director of
Toy Satellite Productions. He is currently completing a Masters at the Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology and assisting in the establishment of Community Communications Online.

Bruce Morrison

Bruce Morrison has a background in the administration of computer systems. Bruce has been working
with the Internet since the early 90's and with the World Wide Web since its inception in 1992. He was
Technical Manager of Pegasus Networks, one of Australia's first Internet Service Providers and is
currently working as a consultant and is a founding Director of Community Communications Online.

Community Communications Online

PO Box 304
Richmond 3121

Tel      +61 3 9486 9764
Fax      +61 3 9486 9765

981116_report_drik.doc                                                                          Page 6 of 6

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