Can Distance Learning Substitute Face-to-Face Learning in Bangladesh After the Pandemic?

The idea of distance learning is not new in Bangladesh. With the recent popularity of the internet, a large group of people are following this learning process. However, it is limited to privileged groups who have the resources to avail distance learning. Bangladesh has suffered from negative effects of the spread of COVID-19. Along with “pandemic”, “social distancing” and “lockdown”, the words “online class” gained popularity with the masses, as the pandemic necessitated school closure from March 2020.

As a part of the “new normal”, the Bangladesh Government implemented distance learning modalities for students such as TV classes, Assignments and Internet classes. The government centrally creates and delivers the TV classes for primary and secondary students, while the internet classes are provided by the respective educational institution based on government instructions.

A qualitative study was done in 2020 to explore the impact of COVID-19 on urban slum adolescents. It was divided into two rounds. The first round was conducted at the beginning of the pandemic in Bangladesh, and the second, after the lockdown was lifted.

The adolescents interviewed were living in low-income settlements and did not have adequate access to digital connectivity services. This was identified as the most common problem among the majority of adolescents. A 17-year-old female shared,

“The biggest problem for lower-middle-income families like us is that maybe I have a TV in my house, but others may not. Or maybe my family owns two phones, so if I use one to do classes online, it won’t cause a problem. But some people only have one phone in their house, and there are even people who do not have a phone at all. How will those who use button phones (feature phones) take classes online? Everyone has a TV in their house, if these online classes were shown on TV, it would be beneficial for all.”

They mentioned some common difficulties regarding access to digital connection facilities such as, not having any smartphones in the household, a single phone shared by multiple siblings, poor internet connection, and costly internet packages.

Almost all the adolescents interviewed were following various distance learning modalities but expressed their preference for face-to-face learning. Some younger adolescents mentioned taking external teaching support from private tuition classes, elder siblings, parents, and classmates. Lack of sufficient interaction with the teachers was identified as the main drawback, according to the adolescents. A 19-year-old female said, “When you are attending a class face-to-face, you can ask questions and get feedback but online there are a lot of pupils attending. How many questions can the teachers answer? I am not able to share my problems with them.

A 12-year-old male said, “In a face-to-face class, we can ask our teachers if we don’t understand something, but it’s not possible in an online class because he needs to teach many other students. And many times we can’t join class due to internet drop out. We also can’t interact with other students or teachers. Now we don’t need to go to the school or coaching, (sir) can teach us online. My elder sister teaches me different types of subjects like Maths, English, ICT, Religion, etc.”

However, not all the respondents could afford to join private tuition classes, and some of them do not even have anyone in their family to help them with their studies; these adolescents lagged behind. A 17-year-old male shared, “If we didn’t have any financial restraints, I would have hired a private tutor. That tutor could have taught me many subjects.”

Those who have good access to digital learning modules, use various digital online distance learning modalities. Only the older male adolescents in our study said that they are using the internet for their studies. A 16-year-old male shared, “I took online classes, I studied at home as well, then I browsed the internet for what I couldn’t understand. Google helps me a lot. Google, then the teachers are helping me. If you don’t know something There is a page(on Facebook), I talk on that page, and almost all the teachers from the college also  have provided the classes on different subjects (on Facebook).”

All the adolescents in school mentioned using one or two social networks and/or online teaching platforms (e.g. Facebook Live, WhatsApp, Messenger, Zoom, IMO) for distance learning. The government TV classes do not have the same following, due to various structural and technical issues. However, one college-going female, who had to discontinue her studies due to a lack of facilities required to participate in online classes, suggested improving TV classes and making them inclusive to all categories of students. This can be beneficial for all since almost all the households in her community have access to TVs.

The school-going female respondents’ studies are being hampered the most, due to their lack of access to mobile phones. Apart from a few older and married adolescents, none of the female adolescents has mobile phones of their own and needs to use their parents’ or older siblings’ phones (mostly brothers) to attend online classes.

Bangladesh has an estimated slum population of 22,32,114, which represents 6.33 per cent of the urban population and 1.48 per cent of the total population of the country.1 According to a news report based on a recent study, “About 49 per cent of the households have no access to a computer and 54 per cent do not have access to the internet. Although 96% of rural households own a mobile phone, the majority (59  per cent) do not have access to a smartphone”.2 This study represents the current scenario of the digital access of rural Bangladesh. These statistics support that the majority of the population of this country cannot access the distance learning modalities using digital connectivity. Adolescents’ economic context and the lack of any prior experience with this learning process impacts their overall distance learning experience. On the other hand, those who have good access to digital connectivity will benefit from these distance learning modalities. These modalities may complement the current face-to-face learning system but can’t supplement it considering the overall socio-economical context of Bangladesh.


  1. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Statistics Division Ministry of Planning Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Population and Housing census 2011.; 2011. 
  2. Editorial. Most rural households lack digital access. The Daily Star. Published on September 15, 2020.

Mehedi Hasan Anik is a Research Assistant at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University.