Bangladesh to give phone loans to pupils amid lockdown

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Photo: The Bangladesh Today. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

DHAKA, Sep 13, 2020, Anadolu Agency. Bangladesh is set to provide financial support to help needy students buy smartphones or electronic devices for online classes amid the COVID-19 lockdown. Academic activities in Bangladesh have been postponed since March 17 to stem the spread of the lethal virus among students. As of Saturday, the virus has killed 4,668 people in Bangladesh, while infections stand at 334,762 with 236,024 recoveries, Anadolu Agency reported.

Authorities in academic institutions including universities, however, launched online classes in April.

The nation’s 46 public universities, teaching more than 500,000 students, including a large number of needy pupils from remote areas, began online academic activities in May.

But due to the lack of economic solvency, many public university students reportedly do not have smartphones, depriving them of the opportunity to take part in online classes.

And the current cost of monthly internet packages is also reportedly not feasible for needy students.

Assessing realities on the ground, the nation’s apex regulatory body for higher education, the University Grants Commission (UGC), issued letters to 43 public universities Aug. 6 to provide lists of poor students who do not have smartphones and need financial support.

“Till today [Sept. 9, 2020] we have had the lists of 23,587 students from 38 public universities for this loan,” said Kamal Hossain, a director at the commission.

Some universities, including the nation’s leading Dhaka University, are expected to send the list this week.

Interest-free loan

“We are going to allot an interest-free loan of 10,000 to 15,000 Bangladeshi taka [$119 to $178] to every needy student to buy a smartphone or laptop or desktop so that they can join the online classes during this pandemic period,” Hossain told Anadolu Agency.

“Students will enjoy the relaxation of paying the loan at any convenient time of their entire educational life.”

Meanwhile, the UGC is also going to arrange a 100 taka ($1.19) special monthly internet package for students to ensure optimum participation in online classes.

According to available records, attendance at online classes has been marked below the standard level since the beginning.

“We hope that students’ attendance must be increased to a satisfactory level in the online classes after launching the new internet package,” Hossain said.

Students appeal for fairness

University students expressed concerns about the fairness in preparing the lists of needy students.

“Almost one month ago we were served a form requiring to fill up name, phone number, email address and father’s annual income,” Md. Hasib, second-year marketing student in a southern public university told Anadolu Agency.

He said it would be better if authorities collected the forms from only needy students.

“However, I appreciate this initiative and expect that our university authorities as well as the UGC go through the process fairly without any nepotism.”

Third year marketing student Aysha Siddika Tithi said state-run mobile network services are very weak in many parts of the country.

“As we will be given the 100 taka monthly internet package under only this mobile network services, I am confused about the effectiveness of the initiative,” she added.

Fairness to be granted

UGC Chairman Kazi Shahidullah, however, said, that the commission asked university authorities to stay out of any political and other influence while preparing the list so that “only destitute students are enlisted.”

“This is a very time-befitting step for our country where many needy students are being deprived of education during this pandemic situation only for lack of money,” Shahidullah told Anadolu Agency.

He said once the fund is sanctioned, it will be a permanent asset for the country’s needy students in the future.

“We can allot the same fund again and again for the welfare of other needy students in the future when the benefitted students of the current scheme will start returning it,” he said.

Citing the pandemic situation, he added: “We are expecting to complete the collection and disbursement of the loans by this month.”

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