"Once upon a time there lived a teacher who had a classroom filled with students. The lessons were not taught on Zoom but under a roof made of brick and mortar."
Even though the aforementioned scenario dates back just about a year, it seems no less than a fairy-tale at present. As the days are passing, students are being taught by rectangular screens all over the globe. Classes are being held online, assignments are being submitted as PDFs or docs and presentations are being conducted within students' comfort. After spending about a year online, both the students and teachers are still learning the ropes of this virtual platform. With the Covid-19 still prevailing as ever, the status quo may not shift any time soon.
Online classes and tutoring may be a novelty for a country like ours, but for most other nations, it is hardly anything new. Globally renowned online course providers such as Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy and others have been in the market for some time now. Bangladeshi platforms like 10 Minute School, Onnorokom Pathshala, etc. have also made their marks in the pre-Covid era.
"Online courses are more convenient since you can take them any point of time, and you're not confined to a certain schedule, which was a big issue for me personally," said Arka Rahman, a third year BBA student at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Dhaka University (DU).
Intricately designed for students across the world, these online courses provide rudimentary to in-depth knowledge of a selected subject. From learning Adobe Photoshop to mastering the insights of organic chemistry, most online platforms have a diversified range of topics. Although most of these services are not entirely free of cost, the users do get the opportunity to obtain certificates, get materials coherent to the topics and take graded aptitude tests. However, many are sceptical about the impact of these courses.
"It is not necessary for a course to have real-life implications on your studies or work. I feel the key is to make a sensible and informed decision that satisfies you," said Swapno Chanda, a first year electrical and electronic engineering (EEE) student at Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET). "The programming courses at Coursera I completed helped me out greatly in my studies," he added.
One of the most popular reasons behind enrolling in an online course is to help the users excel in their academics. For example, Khan Academy started its journey in 2007 with a sole purpose of educating and is currently worth over US$ 1.5 million. Platforms like 10 Minute School and BYJU'S extensive courses and materials are specifically tailored for each grade and curriculum. Also, online platforms are increasingly enabling the options of personalising lessons, monitoring progress and discussing problems with other users in their forums. Since Bangladesh is home to millions of students in schools and colleges, online academic courses are proving to be more useful and popular day by day.
In addition to teaching academics, online courses provide viable options to acquire desired skill-set. Learning professional soft skills, new languages, specific software or music instruments-- any new trait can be acquired via the said online courses.
"As I was looking for a place to learn R language and SQL, I stumbled on to DataCamp," recalled an IBA, DU graduate Shubhadeep Chakraborty, who is currently working as a product manager at Intelligent Machines Limited. "I must say the conveniently organised courses and tests inspired me finish the course."
Professions such as graphic designing, freelancing, programming, etc. require users to be proficient in using specific software. In order to get a head-start in jobs like these, online platforms provide expertly monitored courses on various topics. Since getting verified and organised professional offline courses are not so easy to come by, subjects taught by experts under the umbrella of DataCamp, Udemy, 10 Minute School, etc. help those aspiring to make a career in these sectors.
The operations of online courses may seem like an infallible platform, but certain flaws do come along with it. The most obvious problem, especially for a country with poor internet connectivity like Bangladesh, is availability. Bangladesh may have over 100 million internet users at present, but having the knowledge and a fast network connection to properly access these valuable resources is a different ballgame.
Moreover, most of the online courses are not very magnanimous towards their clientele. With the exception of a few platforms, the majority of the online courses require online payment in USD. Coursera has a subscription range of US$ 39-79 per month, Udemy requires a yearly fee of US$ 300 (plus taxes) and DataCamp has a monthly subscription fee of US$ 25. Given the economic status of the majority of users in Bangladesh, these subscription costs pose a big barrier for people with financial instability. Hence, these online courses remain accessible to only a certain demography.
"With the situation right now, it is (online course) the best possible solution to quench your thirst for knowledge. It might not be the equivalent of the physical courses but it still is effective enough," remarked Swapno.
We always have to work with the resources we have got. In this case, the resources are a few clicks away. During this time of turmoil, students need to adapt and keep up with the world. Online courses are not just an interim receptacle of knowledge. Given the functions of these platforms and the ever-growing technological advancements, online courses may be the new dawn in the world of knowledge.
The writer is a student at IBA (DU). Feel free to contact him at [email protected]