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Importance of technology in quality education

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16th-Nov-2016       
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Professor Dr. Abu Yousuf Md. Abdullah 
Chairman (Board of Trustees), Northern University Bangladesh  :
A report prepared for the "UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education" dwelled on the unprecedented changes taking place in higher education worldwide. The report titled "Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution" focused on the academic transformations of the 21st century, especially on the global phenomena of "massificiation" - increased rate of enrolment - in post-secondary education.
One of the key aims of higher education is to build a manpower base that can cater to the needs of existing economic and social dynamics. Proper utilization of human resources is paramount for transforming bulging populations into national assets. Unfortunately, similar to most other developing countries the government initiatives and management mechanisms are insufficient for meeting demographic demand and not dynamic enough, by their own, to live up to global standards.
The worldwide process of large-scale privatization in tertiary education  started in the 1980s. Contrary to traditional perception, in the 21st century, education is considered as an industry with its own market peculiarities. Following the footsteps of Western countries like the U.S., the U.K., London, Australia, Canada and some countries of South East Asia, Bangladesh entered a new era in education after the emergence of privately owned educational institutions for post-secondary studies.
Quantitative and qualitative observations and evaluations are necessary for identifying the issues acting as the Achilles' Heel of our education sector. In the journey towards bringing revolutionary positive changes in the industry, it is also equally important to implement feasible, realistic and innovative solutions to impediments. Bangladesh has to improve its status in the overall knowledge economy in a world order where every advanced or advancing nation is striving to excel through knowledge and research.
The former President of the Commonwealth of Learning, Sir John Daniel urged in a speech that  further emphasis be given on open learning and distance education.  According to Sir Daniel, who also served as Assistant Director-General at UNESCO, the revolutionary change witnessed in higher education could only be sustained through technological mobility. He also shed light on the complexity of increased expenditures incurred in ensuring quality higher education and falling educational standards along with cost-cutting measures.  
Anir Chowdhury, adviser to the UNDP and USAID-supported Access to Information (A2i) Program under the Prime Minister's Office, at a seminar jointly organised by the British Council and English in Action, said that education is going outside the building. In this context, the Indira Gandhi Open University and MIT's Out-Campus, which coordinate open universities under its jurisdiction, provide models of successfully digitalized education systems.  
Today's markets are characterized by regular upheavals in the form of disruptive technology. The primary objective of the traditional postal communication system, maintained by physical delivery and a network of post offices as modes of distribution, has been rendered obsolete. Ideas and experimentations abound for utilizing thousands of defunct brick-and-mortar post offices, which were built at huge expense to state coffers. Another example could be the rising popularity of digital news sources, leading to reduced reliance on large-scale press machinery and resulting in less deforestation.
A smartphone in 2016 packs enough data processing capacities to rival all of NASA's combined computing power in 1969, the year man stepped foot on the moon. Already, the number of active mobile internet connections in Bangladesh has crossed the six-crore mark, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. The future possibilities seem limitless when we envision the scenario of internet-enabled smartphones in every hand, each having the potential to reach the metaphorical moon of opportunities.   
The present government's initiatives, especially the revolutionary concept and implementation of Digital Bangladesh, have set the track for striding forward to an era where public services can be availed at less time and cost, and with fewer visits to government offices. The primary beneficiaries of improved digitalized services are the citizens of the nation, though such increase in efficiency have far-reaching implications in ensuring good governance and maintaining the rule of law.  
There is no alternative to large-scale digitization for sustaining the beneficial effects of the  privatization revolution in higher education in the long run. Incidentally, the quality of education in private universities is often measured with the yardstick of having a permanent campus. As a common citizen, I believe that it is paramount to ensure adequately skilled teachers, international-standard laboratories, enriched libraries, updated and need-based curricula and an amiable learning environment for ensuring quality education. Surprisingly, some sections of the media squarely put the blame on universities' not having permanent campuses for substandard education services. I do not want to belittle the importance of proper academic buildings but physical structures cannot be only important factor in ensuring quality education.
In order to accelerate the higher education revolution in poor and middle-income countries, additional expenditure must be reduced in unproductive sectors. Academic buildings are essential for education but in the future, they might have to face similar fates as of the post offices of the twentieth century. Technology has to be brought forward to use the resources of private universities. We have often seen regular academic activities being hampered due to student protests, blockades and general unrest. As a result it becomes really difficult to complete courses on due time. At present, many teachers are guiding their students over the phone or through the internet so that students can complete their courses in time. Students are taking online exams which are even graded online, with instant access to feedback. All these initiatives are appreciable they demonstrate that education should not be confined to the four walls of the classroom.
The need for establishing libraries occupying thousands of square  meters of space is gradually diminishing. Students can enjoy all the facilities of the library from home after digitalization of the system which provides 24/7 access to online libraries.
Mankind's quest for higher education has come a long way since the establishment of the University of Al Quaraoyyin in modern-day Morocco, said to be the world's very first university. In the context of the  higher education revolution, it is not undue thinking that the priority placed on permanent campus regulations is a hindrance in the advancement of technological innovation required for today's institutions. Through distance education, flipped classrooms  and online interactive content, education services need to adjust to changing times. The question of university buildings being rented or being owned should not be given more priority than more pressing issues, for example, the issue of environment friendliness through utilization of natural light, renewable energy et cetera.
The World Bank, in one of its recent reports, mentioned that the education sector in Bangladesh is developing, overcoming the constraint of  poor management. We need to invest in research and development and produce skilled teachers in order to foster effective learning environments. Prioritizing physical infrastructure requirements and merely increasing the count of graduates should not be regarded as the primary focus. Ensuring the utilization of technology for building the minds of the nation's future generations is the optimal route to excellence in education.

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