• Karla Fraser

Going Online, What One International Higher Education System is Facing

Challenges and considerations for online education in Bangladesh

Changbok Ho/Unsplash

There is no doubt that conversations are happening between governing boards and senior leaderships of universities worldwide. Recently, I read the Los Angeles Times story about the California State University System's plan:


California State University, the nation’s largest four-year college system, plans to cancel most in-person classes in the fall and instead offer instruction primarily online, Chancellor Timothy White announced Tuesday (12 May 2020).

The vast majority of classes across the 23-campus Cal State system will be taught online, White said, with some limited exceptions that allow for in-person activity.”


and then I read on Aljazeera.com about Cambridge University moving online for the upcoming semester(s):


“The University of Cambridge has said it will teach students online for the next full academic year, scrapping face-to-face classes in light of the coronavirus pandemic.” (20 May 2020)


These stories about the largest college system in the US and an 800-year-old institution in the UK prompted me to share a perspective from one international higher education system.


As such, the considerations noted in the article resonated with me, as a higher education professional working abroad. Higher education institutions in various countries will have some similar challenges to ponder, but there are other factors. The story gave this impetus to share the scenario of what is occurring in South Asia.


Let’s take my location of #Bangladesh, our decision to start next semester online, or in-person ties to directives from the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission (UGC). The UGC provides the various operational directions and guidelines of public and private universities in the country. In a memo issued at the end of the second week of May 2020, all Bangladeshi universities were asked to move to an online platform for the upcoming semester(s). The charge is monumental and progressive. However, it will pose challenges for many universities, especially large public institutions. Nevertheless, the charge is directly in line with the Digital Bangladesh & Vision 2021, which started in 2009.


Even before the directive from the government, some private universities in Bangladesh were actively working to move courses in a manageable format for students and faculty. The shift is no small task for many reasons, such as the evolving digital and database infrastructure. The level of accessibility between the rural area and the capital city of #Dhaka varies drastically. However, the internet system and its connectivity are undergoing a nationwide upgrade. Additionally, the nation and many universities do not currently have a robust electronic data collection system. Current records are gradually making its transition from paper and notebook to a database. At the same time, data collection points are arising and will need a place, an electronic space to store them. These updates cannot come soon enough as there is a need to support and facilitate the new educational directive.


Thomas Jensen / Unsplash

The other challenge to the directive besides connectivity is the ability for students to have the proper tools for accessibility. As an evolving economy, it means that some students do not have the capacity at home, such as a computer or tablet, to access their coursework. Additionally, these resources can be premium purchases during regular times, and even more so during this pandemic where many families have lost their income. Furthermore, if a family already has such learning resources or can purchase it, they might have multiple students at differing levels of education in the home competing for its usage. Let’s also not forget the families who also have the head of households working from home and may need access to the same technology. All these dynamics are considerations and factors that universities can and should deliberate when planning virtual learning schedules.


As a student life professional and practitioner here on the student development and leadership side of the table, I designed and planned how my university will transition its student engagement in a digital space. Moving student organization’s activities, career services, student discipline, and overall campus-wide programming digitally will pose its own challenges and requires creative thinking. The student life side has an additional consideration of scheduling. The ability to balance the scheduling of the virtual student experience around the academics will minimize burnout or even reduce possible internet addiction. A student will need to complete coursework but want to be active in events as a potential stress reliever, even if it is still online.


So, whether it is the faculty for preparing coursework, the administration creating and ensuring proper resources or student life teams developing interactive online programming, the learning curve in Bangladesh is high. I know that various teams at my institution, Brac University (#BracU), are already rising to the challenge of developing the infrastructure to meet the new directive.


The #pandemic has created a push factor in the education sector at all levels in Bangladesh. Universities, like the one for which I work, can lead the charge by creating a digital learning platform and systems that are replicable within the Bangladeshi context. There is also a need for training faculty to pivot their teaching techniques by providing a robust digital student leadership development program, and developing workforce-ready graduates.


Do you have skills in building or managing online learning platforms? Are you able to train faculty in online teaching pedagogy and techniques? Then, it is time four you to use your expertise at all levels of education to continue robust learning worldwide for the next generation. Are you ready to consider living abroad?



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-- Karla A. Fraser, Going Online, What One International Higher Education System is Facing

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