Online education throughout the world has been recently going through a boom, currently offering fully-fledged degrees from some of the world’s top universities on platforms like edX and Coursera. Though they haven’t gone as far as to replace traditional classroom learning, they have provided alternative avenues for those seeking quality education and are constrained by time, budget, and distance. In Bangladesh, these avenues have the potential to be far-reaching, as online learning can be the key to rapidly equipping the workforce with relevant skills for the market, preparing students for national exams, and providing supplementary education to the greater population.
Bangladesh has come a long way in ensuring access to education and gender equity in enrolments at the primary and secondary school levels. The gross enrolment rates in 2018 were 114% and 61% respectively compared to 90.8% and 47% in 2008.  However, recent trends over the last 5 years have shown declines in pass rates from primary school to HSC levels as shown in the table below. There has also been considerable concern regarding the quality and relevance of education towards equipping students with skills essential for their future. This includes basic competencies needed to address current market demands as well as core skills needed in a rapidly changing globalized environment.
|Primary School||Gross Enrolment Rate||110.5%||114.2%|
|PSC Pass Rate||98.3%||97.6%|
|Secondary School||Gross Enrolment Rate||58.3%||61%|
|JSC Pass Rate||89.7%||85.3%|
Enrolment Pass Rates of Students from Primary School to HSC
Gross Enrolment Rate is according to the capacity of school
Bangladesh ranks well below its neighbors in the South Asia region in terms of infrastructure and affordability of mobile internet. The country has many obstacles to overcome in achieving digital inclusion for the greater population. However, it is critical that steps be taken to enable its youth to rapidly fill the education gap between industry, academia, and geography. This is because online education can solve a plethora of issues in regard to providing quality and relevant education in rural and suburban areas. Not only can it allow them access to top educators, if complemented by existing infrastructure, it has the potential to rapidly scale and train its future workforce and entrepreneurs to create a Digital Bangladesh, a vision set by the government for 2021.
Despite 3G networks covering over 90% of the country, high costs of mobile data packages are preventing those at the bottom of the wealth distribution from gaining access to the internet. According to a GSMA report, it would cost 11% of the monthly earnings of an individual at the bottom 20% of the income distribution to purchase a 1GB package. This is due to high levels of taxation and fees which are preventing operators from providing lower prices.
The global online education market in 2017 was $1.60 bn and is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.26% to reach $287 bn by 2023. In India the market is set to grow to $1.96 bn in 2021 from $247 mn in 2016. The industry in Bangladesh is still in its early growth stage and there is no census to its current market size. However, given the culture of coaching centers in Bangladesh, there is a visible and significant market demand for supplementary educational services and test preparation.
The online education market can be divided between academic and professional skills-oriented hubs. The majority of academic education providers focus on test preparation, with a few covering the preceding classes and a limited number of university-level courses. Although online English language education portals are present in the local market, they face considerable competition from the global field.
So where do online education portals in Bangladesh fit in a world of globalization where just about anyone can start providing lessons and host their videos free of cost? The answer is in supplementary education for grades 1-8, test preparation, and reskilling & online certifications, similar to the current situation in India. 
In Dhaka, fees for 1-to-1 tutoring for SSC and HSC test preparation can cost as much as $100+/month depending on the qualifications of the tutor and urgency of demand from parents. A majority of parents in the country have a strong belief in the necessity of after school tutoring, especially given the weight of national exams in counting towards higher education admissions. Online education has the potential to rapidly achieve economies of scale given the only associated costs are the need for a camera and an internet connection and widespread 3G coverage in the country. Bangla language education portal are further protected from competition outside local markets due to a language barrier, making it an ideal catalyst for the future of education.
The major issues towards making the way forward and reducing the education gap between geography, industry and academia involve addressing the concerns of major stakeholders in bringing online education to the masses, namely teachers, guardians, and the government. Recently a number of health concerns have arisen due to heavy usage of social media, which has created a stigma against internet usage among the older generation. Teachers involved in after school supplementary education also have a direct economic incentive against this as it would mean greater competition for them and potentially lead to lower earnings overall. Finally, to ensure access to the greater population, policies must be developed by the government so that online education is formally recognized as a legitimate medium of instruction.
In China, there is an ongoing online education program backed by the government and targeted towards rural areas. The initiative had been taken to reduce the urban-rural education gap and provide schools with access to specialized teachers as a large proportion face shortages. As a result of the new widespread accessibility of education now, demand in China is driven by concerned parents who want their children equipped with the skills needed in both school and industry. A similar case of success in implementing online education is also being seen in India, where Byju, the leading online education company, has recently been valued at $5 bn with a 2.4 million paid user base. 
To bring online education forward as the catalyst for reducing the skill gap requires addressing a negative social stigma against internet usage and social media. Proper ICT infrastructure must also be ensured in government schools so that the burden of initial set up costs are spread among a larger base. There is also a need for those in education, both teachers and staff, to be trained to use properly use ICT in providing online education as a supplement and not a replacement. This is because online education is to a considerable extent lacking in engaging students with their immediate surrounding environment.
As much as this new trending market has the potential to fast track education in the country, its potential drawbacks must also be assessed and checks be properly placed. This is because there have been a number of cases in the country where parents have left their to mobile devices from a young age, leading to internet addiction and late speech development. The subject of online learning must not only ensure quality education for all but also the personal development of students. And given the successful number of case studies throughout the world, it is a proven solution towards enhancing the quality of education irrespective of wealth and geography.
Mohammed Shehab, Business Analyst at LightCastle Partners, has prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]
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