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Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE October 2017 ISSN 1302-6488 Volume: 18 Number: 4 Article 2 


INSTITUTIONAL AND COMMUNITY PERCEPTIONS OF 
DISTANCE EDUCATION IN BANGLADESH: 
PREPARING FOR THE 21 st CENTURY 


Md AKTARUZZAMAN 
Department of Technical and Vocational Education 
Islamic University of Technology 
Gazipur, Bangladesh 

Margaret PLUNKETT 
Faculty of Education and Arts 
Federation University 
Victoria, Australia 


ABSTRACT 

Bangladesh Open University (BOU), the sole distributor of distance education (DE) in 
Bangladesh, is regarded as one of the mega universities in the world. Nonetheless, the 
institution faces numerous issues and challenges that revolve around not only its 
administrative and academic operations, but also the lack of acknowledgement of its 
sociological value and concomitant recognition within the local community. This study 
examines the perceived challenges facing DE provision in Bangladesh from the point of 
view of the local Bangladeshi community as well as senior academics and administrators 
within the institution. Qualitative case study formed the methodological basis of the study. 
Using purposeful non-random sampling supplemented with snowballing technique, five 
senior academics and directors from BOU were selected for individual semi-structured 
interviews. Four focus groups were also formed using stratified purposeful sampling to 
determine the perception of the community towards DE. The paper introduces an 
innovative theoretical model, 'Adapting Structuration Theory In Distance Education 
(ASTIDE)', conceptualised as part of a broader study, to address the underlying issues and 
challenges relating to the future provision of DE in Bangladesh. 

Keywords: Distance Education, ASTIDE, Bangladesh. 

INTRODUCTION 

The study described in this paper focused primarily on distance educational opportunities 
within Bangladesh, where Bangladesh Open University is the only DE provider. The policies 
and practices utilized at BOU were thematically analysed from the view point of the 
Bangladeshi community (BOU students, teacher-tutors and informed public members) and 
BOU administration/academe. The analysis was also linked with the past and contemporary 
literature reviewed in this study relating to DE in Bangladesh. As part of the analytic 
process, the conceptualized ASTIDE model was integrated throughout the paper to help 
explain each of the themes generated through the juxtaposition of the discussion with the 
Bangladeshi community and BOU participants. 

Bangladesh is located in South Asia and has a population of approximately 160 million with 
a density of 1033 per sq. km, one of the most densely populated countries of the world 
(World Factbook of CIA, 2014). According to BuddeComm (2013), the economy of 
Bangladesh is predominantly agro-based and its main endowments include its vast human 
resource base, rich agricultural land, relatively abundant water and substantial reserves of 
natural gas. The people of this country experience poverty (one-third living below the 


20 



poverty line), along with political confrontation and instability, poor infrastructure, 
corruption, insufficient power supplies and slow implementation of economic reforms 
(BuddeComm, 2013). 

The fixed-line teledensity in Bangladesh is the lowest (1.1 milion subscribers, less than 
1%) in South Asia (BuddeComm, 2013). However, this situation has considerably improved 
through the rapid expansion of the mobile market, with a penetration rate of 73% (120 
million subscribers, 13th in the world) in 2014 (BTRC, 2014). The recent growth of the 
Internet has also been significant with subscriptions of more than 40 million, however 96% 
only subscribe to mobile narrowband Internet (BTRC, 2014). The use of personal computers 
and Internet has received encouragement via the government's Vision 2020 initiative 
(Institute of Governance Studies Report, 2010), and waiving of duties and taxes on 
computer hardware and software imports since 1998 (Rahman, Khatri, Bank, & Brunner, 
2012). As a consequence, Internet usage was given a boost and charges began to fall 
accordingly. 

As with many developing countries, while education is considered a priority sector in 
Bangladesh and a means of assisting socio-economic development, it is also often very 
difficult to access and complete. The dropout rate for secondary education in Bangladesh 
is very high, with 60-70% of students leaving school before completing Grade 10 and 37% 
of the remainder not completing Grade 12 (Ahmed & Rahman, 2010). Poverty related 
factors are the main reasons for this high dropout rate with female students particularly 
impacted due to early marriage, household expectations and lack of recognition of the need 
for education for females (Ahmed & Rahman, 2010). According to a British Council Report 
(2012) and OECD Report (2012), participation rates for tertiary education in Bangladesh 
are quite low, with only 13% of Grade 12 students enrolled in higher education in 2012, 
compared with 25% in India, 27% in China, 43% in the USA, 47% in the UK, and 57% in 
Canada. Transforming the human resource potential of the large population is key to 
further development and distance education could provide a viable pathway for Bangladesh 
to educate its massive population and prepare them to adapt to 21 st century issues and 
challenges. 

The only option for accessing distance education in Bangladesh is through the Bangladesh 
Open University (BOU), which is a publicly funded system offering 21 formal and 19 non- 
formal programs from secondary to Masters level. More than 486,195 students were 
enrolled in programs within the six faculties in 2012-2013 (BOU Website, 2014). The 
university has 12 regional resource centers (RRCs), 80 coordinating offices (CO) and 1381 
study centers across the country utilising teachers of high schools or colleges throughout 
the country at the weekend to provide education to distance learners (Rashid & Rahman, 
2010). Three programs contribute approximately 95% of the total enrolments, namely 
Secondary (Grade 8-10), Higher Secondary (Grade 11-12) and Bachelor of Arts (BA), with 
female participation rates quite high (41.5%) (BOU Website, 2014). Interestingly 
universities are not incorporated into BOU program and offerings, unlike high schools and 
colleges, which according to Islam (2011), is a problem as there are approximately 90 
universities in Bangladesh including 34 public, 54 private and 2 international universities 
(UGC, 2012). 

LITERATURE REVIEW 

Although contemporary distance education literature frequently signals the problems and 
prospects of this form of education in developing countries, little research focuses on 
community perceptions and how they might differ from institutional perceptions 
(Aktaruzzaman, 2014; Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a, 2016b). 

Numerous studies have raised issues and challenges in relation to the provision of distance 
education in Bangladesh. For instance, diminishing enrolement figures, even in programs 
with initial high demand. Perceptions about DE in developing countries as second rate 
education and of limited social value have been proposed as possible reasons 


21 


(Aktaruzzaman, 2014; Kamal & Sultana, 2002; Rashid, Jahan, Islam, & Ratna, 2015). Even 
non-formal programs at BOU are not as popular as those offered through NGOs, as they are 
not considered to be as effectively conducted (Numan, Islam & Sadat, 2007). A recent study 
by Rashid et al. (2015) into the Diploma in Computer Science and Application (DCSA) 
attributed decreasing enrolment trends to a number of external and internal issues, which 
were quite telling. They included personal workload, difficulties in understanding course 
materials, lack of strategic direction, insufficient human resources, political influence and 
nepotism, delay in production and delivery of course materials, lack of monitoring and 
evaluation and absence of an executable policy formulation. 

Issues related to lack of integrated curriculum in distance education was also raised by Vaz 
(2012), particularly in developing countries such as Bangladesh where the formal economy 
cannot offer large-scale job opportunities as required for its huge population. According to 
Islam (2011), less than 10% of aspirant students have the opportunity to undertake a 
Bachelor program in Bangladesh. The school leavers from Grade 10 and Grade 12 level 
(even at Grade 8 in many cases) make a living either in the informal economy, in foreign 
countries or in the country's large garments industry sector (Mia & Mian, 2004) and in these 
fields general education is perceived as providing very little for school leavers. Often, in the 
absence of opportunities and alternatives, unemployment problems can contribute to 
problems of terrorism and religious fundamentalism in some parts of the world 
(Aktaruzzaman, 2014). Vaz (2012) highlights the value of retaining students in education, 
through the provision of multiple pathways at these terminal stages and through 
integrating vocational elements within academic education in order to ease the transition 
from study to work. 

Older technologies including radio, CD, audio-visual cassettes, and TV broadcasts are 
commonplace at BOU, as is reliance on traditional face-to-face teaching and print materials 
(Rashid & Rahman, 2010). Taylor (2001) and Moore and Kearsley (2005) described these 
as part of the 2.5 th generational DE model, while what is required to improve the delivery 
of courses is the integration of both synchronous and asynchronous media (Islam & Selim, 
2006). However, due to concomitant infrastructural and financial constraints, other 
possibilities include the use of a cheaper and interactive context of learning through the 
use of mobile phones, video and SMS based techniques (Shohel & Power, 2010), which have 
been found to be feasible, despite the lack of adoption of open educational resources at 
BOU (Anderson & Hatakka, 2010). While ICT limitation have not specifically featured in 
more recent studies, recommendations for improvements in the area have been suggested 
including extended duration of BOU programs through TV and radio, development of self- 
instructional and activity based course materials and improved linking with local 
institutions and online libraries for key resources (Islam & Ferdowsi, 2014; Sultana, Jahan 
& Numan, 2011). 

A number of theoretical perspectives have been developed in relation to DE provision, 
which are outside the scope of this paper. However, in order to identify possible means of 
addressing some of the related issues, an all-inclusive theoretical framework in the form of 
ASTIDE model was proposed (Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a), and is detailed in the 
following section. 

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 

In 1984, sociologist Giddens developed a theory of structuration, which is a social theory 
based on the concepts of structure and agents that create and reproduce a social system 
without offering either primacy. He suggested that within this theory, social life is viewed 
as "neither the experience of individual actors, nor the existence of any form of social 
totality but social practices ordered across space and time" (Giddens, 1984, p. 2). As such. 
Structuration Theory and its existing adaptations towards the information system field 
(DeSanctis & Poole, 1994; Orlikowski, 2000) provide a structure for determining the 
suitability of technology in promoting educational change. Within these theories, human 
action (e.g. learning practices) and its existing relationship with social structures (e.g. 


22 


pedagogical cultures) are core components, thereby providing a useful avenue for 
examining possible resolutions for issues raised in this study. 

Despite adaptations to Structuration Theory relating to information systems, such as 
DeSanctis and Poole's (1994) 'Adaptive Structuration Theory' and Orlikowski's (2000) 
'Technology in Practice', none adequately covered the complexity associated with DE 
provision in developing countries (Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a). Similarly, theories 
relating to distance education (Gorsky, Caspi & Chajut, 2008; Moore, 1993) have not 
sufficiently reflected the focus of DE provision in developing countries, where sociological 
rather technological parameters particularly matter (Aktaruzzaman, 2014; Aktaruzzaman 
& Plunkett, 2016a, 2016b). 

In response, a theoretical model was conceptualized, based on Giddens' (1984) 
Structuration Theory (ST) and its derivatives. The 'Adapting Structuration Theory In 
Distance Education (ASTIDE)' model (Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a) is underpinned by 
the key constructs and modalities of ST, thereby providing a comprehensive theoretical 
framework for appropriate DE provision (Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016b). In the 
adapaptation process five triads were identified: (i) signification-interpretive scheme- 
communication (Tl), (ii) domination-facility-power (T2), (iii) legitimation-norm-sanction 
(T3), (iv) structure-modality-interaction (T4), and (v) interpretive scheme-facility-norm 
(T5). Within this adapatation, the concepts of instruction, development, policies and 
practices, student success and technology perspectives, are then integrated into these 
triads respectively, as illustrated in Figure 1. The model was utilized in data analysis to 
address underlying challenges related to DE provision in Bangladesh. 


Comprehensive Theoretical Model for Distance Education 


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~l 1— 















signification 


domination 


legitimation 

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structure 

4 



4 



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TECHNOLOGY 

modality 


, interpretative 
! scheme 

1 

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facility 

-1 


norm 

i 

_ 

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communication 


power 


sanction 


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interaction 











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; ti 

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; T2 

- 

; T3 

t4 

Concept of 
Instruction 


Concept of 
Development 


Concept of 
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Concept of 
Student Success 


Figure 1. ASTIDE Model (Source: adapted from Giddens, 1984, p. 29) 

While Giddens (1984) did not explain how to utilize ST in empirical research, he did 
highlight key operational constructs - norms, facilities and interpretive schemes in the 
'duality of structure' of ST. Adaptations by Orlikowski (2000) and Halperin and Backhouse 
(2007) provided some methodological guidance, proposing the use of interviews, 
observations, focus group discussions and document collections as suitable for capturing 
norms, interpretive schemes and technological characteristics. As these data sources 
intuitively support Giddens' (1984) structurational process they were utilised in the study 
described in this paper. 


23 





























































METHODOLOGY 


The initial task of developing a framework for Bangladesh inolved analysing the existing 
conditions of DE in the country and identifying related issues and challenges from different 
perspectives. It required the perceptions of different groups of people associated with DE 
including students, teacher-tutors, informed public, managers, senior academics and 
directors, in close consultation with the researcher. Therefore, a qualitative case study 
strategy was determined appropriate for gaining detail and rich insights into individual 
experiences of the world in context (Yin, 2014). In this study, the focus was on a sample 
of people with experience and understanding of the issue under investigation (Flick, 2007), 
therefore, purposive sampling, supplemented with snowballing was used (Patton, 2015). 
Five participants were thus obtained, named Senior Reference Group (SRG) members due 
to the senior positions they held in either top level administration or academe at BOU. For 
the Bangladeshi community, stratified purposeful sampling was utilized to select and 
populate four focus groups - male students, female students, teacher-tutors and informed 
public, with five members in each group. Semi-structured individual interviews of 30-45 
minutes were conducted with each of the SRG members, often supplemented by provision 
of web or manual documents. FGDs were conducted with each of the Bangladeshi 
community groups with a duration of 45-60 minutes. 

In this study the researcher transcribed all the individual interviews and FGDs, which were 
further reviewed by two of his senior colleagues. Then the transcripts were cross-checked 
by the supervisors to examine their accuracy against the voice recordings. Following 
transcription, interview participants were provided with the opportunity to accept and 
react to their own words. However, member checking was not conducted with the FGD 
participants due to the numbers involved and lack of access to email addresses. To ensure 
confidentiality, identification of participants was omitted and pseudonyms were used in 
accordance with approved ethics. Data were thematically analyzed using constant 
comparison and inductive analysis (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011) in NVivo to extract patterns 
and emergent themes. Representative quotes or commentaries from respondents were 
used to support the data analysis. To provide a trail of evidence for the study's reliability, a 
template with code manual was created through close examination of the research 
questions and interview or FGD questions. Then in consultation with the supervisors, the 
researcher invited an experienced colleague in qualitative research to do the same and 
after comparing the two, made minor modifications to the code template. Each of the 
individual and group interviews data was coded as case nodes in NVivo. Based on the 
research questions and through connecting the cased nodes, thematic nodes were 
identified and corroborated. The researcher used colleagues and supervisors for peer 
debriefing and found this process particularly valuable in the analysis of data. This study 
employed multiple cases, providing a form of triangulation, to make analytic generalization 
and to compare and collate evidence of different cases in order to satisfy external validity. 
An interview or FGD guide and a systematic process for recording, transcribing and 
interpreting data were also used to make the process transparent to key external 
informants reviewing draft reports. The ASTIDE theoretical model (Aktaruzzaman & 
Plunkett, 2016a, 2016b) was considered to address the DE issues and challenges in order 
to lay the groundwork for development of a framework of policies and practices for distance 
education in Bangladesh. 

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION 

To identify the issues and challenges related to DE in Bangladesh, themes and subthemes 
emerging from discussions with the Bangladeshi community (BOU students, teacher-tutors 
and informed public members) were compared and collated with the information provided 
by SRG members from BOU. The major themes emerging from the juxtaposition of the two 
types of data collected through focus group discussion (FGD) and individual interviews 
were: flexibility and support, course materials and delivery, use of ICTs, integration of VET 
(Vocational Education and Training) into DE programs, and overall quality of DE programs 
and provisions at BOU. 


24 


Issues Emerging from FGDs/interviews with the Bangladeshi Participants 
Pseudonyms were provided for the twenty FGD participants of the Bangladeshi community 
(13 of whom were male and 7 female) and five SRG members (all male), aged between 25 
and 50+ years. The FGD participants were directly or indirectly involved with the ongoing 
distance education system operated by Bangladesh Open University. However, all SRG 
members held senior positions ranging from director to senior academics in different 
schools or faculties. 

Flexibility and Support 

The Bangladeshi community acknowledged the importance of the flexibility attached to DE 
as a core reason for engaging in DE programs. Apart from the classes attended once a week, 
learners are able to study while working and performing family duties, thereby enjoying 
the freedom to develop themselves and survive. One of the informed members of the public, 
Tuhin echoed this perception in the following way, " The BOU program is ideally suited to 
those who have to stop their study due to different socio-economic circumstances. As the 
classes usually take place on Fridays (weekends in Bangladesh), people can continue 
education along with their respective work or job/'. Similarly, a female student participant, 
Jayeda commented that, " there is opportunity to continue education through distance 
education of BOU along with household works or job'. Sobur, a male student participant 
was particularly grateful for the opportunities associated with DE, stating, "Many 
Bangladeshis cannot continue their education in the traditional system due to family or 
economic problems. BOU programs give us the opportunity. Nawab, a tutor at BOU 
regional center also commented on the flexibility and its impact on the country, claiming, 
"Bangladesh is a poor country... It is often not possible for people to continue education in 
traditional system but BOU gives the opportunity to them/'. 

The SRG members similarly perceived the value of flexible options provided via DE and 
perceived that BOU had positioned itself as a bridge through which poorer citizens, the 
majority of whom live below the poverty line, are able to make positive contributions to 
the economy, as well as increasing the potential for productivity of those already employed, 
and with high educational standards (Aktaruzzaman, 2014). This was reflected in the 
following comments by senior academics; Mak stated that, "BOU is the only university 
which can help this kind of people who are living at the bottom of the society. We are trying 
to bring them up...", while Sarker added, "our target is also to catch the in-service people 
and lifelong learners, who wish to continue updating their knowledge and skills throughout 
their life span/'. 

In terms of support, it was interesting that none of the Bangladeshi community, particularly 
students and tutors (n=15) raised the need for a support system, which would ultimately 
benefit them. While BOU has a Student Support Services (SSS) division, its functionalities 
are limited to registration, examinations and results. This represents a very limited support 
structure, as illustrated through the ASTIDE model's reflection of Giddens' (1984) concept 
of knowledgeability of agents. This is initially highlighted in the lack of policy frameworks 
developed by the institution, which defines what is acceptable and what is not. Additionally, 
tutors and university staff have inherent beliefs about what ought to be and as such, 
measure the anomalies through comparison with the assumed norms of a traditional higher 
education institution. Although the students considered the support issue as normal, this 
could be the result of a lack of awareness of possibilities within a DE institution. The world 
pioneer of distance education, the Open University UK (OU UK) promotes student support 
in its DE programs (Lentell, 2003; Tait, 2003). As such, BOU would benefit from 
incorporating a rigorous policy framework as outlined in the 3 rd triad 'legitimation-norm- 
sanction' of the ASTIDE model, in order to provide a formal and reliable support structure 
for students, tutors at the study centers delivering lectures and for academics at the 
headquarters engaged in curriculum development and research. 

Course Materials and Delivery 

The male and female student groups (n =10) highlighted issues with the challenging 
content of texts, limited number of classes to complete a course and late arrival of 


25 


materials. The tutor group also questioned the appropriateness of course materials and 
number of classes for completion of course content. Jahangir, an English course teacher, 
commented that, " The subject matter of the English course of Higher Secondary and 
Bachelor level of BOU is not appropriate for the students of that level and also not 
commensurate with their previous education. These subject matters should be revised in 
terms of familiar topics and practical orientation. The number of classes must be increased 
to cover the course materiald'. Another tutor Raju acknowledged the ongoing trends of 
distance education in Bangladesh, stating that, "the quantity (number of students) of BOU 
programs is increasing but not the quality. The 'open for all' ideology promoted by BOU 
provides challenges for customising the content to learners given the diversity of abilities, 
resulting in the perception that the content is difficult and at graduation, learners may not 
have mastered it. 

In contrast, the five SRG members all perceived the quality of what is taught and learned 
at BOU as generally good. The general perception was that programs and course 
development were strictly regulated to ensure quality, yet program/course reviews were 
not mentioned. Director of Training and Research, Alam, remarked that, " the instructional 
materials and the courses are developed by expert writers in-house or outside...". Mak, a 
senior academic, added that, "In this team we include the teachers of different universities 
especially teachers from the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of Dhaka 
and the good tutors of different study centers of BOU'. Another senior academic, Anis, 
explained, "In developing course materials there are three teams involved- the writer, the 
editor and the reviewer. When the writing is complete, the editor will check whether it is 
written based on the curriculum, based on the distance education system and based on 
modular format. If he says ok, then we send these to the reviewers for their opinions. 
Finally, it goes to the printing section where graphics sections are developed differently 
using computer s". On the other hand, the SRG members partially acknowledged delays in 
the printing of course materials and their distribution. According to senior academic, 
Manwar, "In small programs... there is no delay but in cases involving 30,000 students, 
there may be some delay due to complexities of the government offices in printing the huge 
number of material^'. Yet Sarker, who was a senior academic also undertaking further 
study, explained that, "lam also a student of the BEd program of this university and have 
not got any materials up to now. The semester is going into the third month'. 

However, renowned open universities like the Open University UK update course materials 
regularly and deliver courses in a range of interactive formats (e.g., mobile, online, print) 
to students on time (The OU UK Website, 2014). The ASTIDE model integrates Giddens 
(1984) notion that agents have the capability of repeating an action to the extent that it 
becomes organizational practice. This is what was reported as occurring at BOU. The 
Bangladeshi participants indicated 2-3 months as the usual delay in course material 
delivery and the absence of regular revision and updating of materials. Therefore, in order 
to emerge from the situation, new behaviour patterns are required such as those existing 
at the OU UK. Again, in the 1 st triad 'signification-interpretive scheme-communication' of 
the ASTIDE model, Gorsky et al.'s (2008) focus is reflected in the intrapersonal dialogues 
(interaction between learner and subject matter through texts, TV/radio programs, 
simulations, tutorials and webinars) which modify and/or reproduce those embedded 
interpretive schemes in social systems (e.g. transmission structures of learning) as 
meaningful structures to facilitate learning. It suggests course materials are important and 
should include self-instructional and interactive components. 

Use of ICTs in DE Programs 

Community participants indicated a desire for integration of technologies such as 
smartphones and the Internet for accessing learning content and for computer knowledge 
being made available through DE. Female student Farzana, stated, "We do not have 
computer subjects. If it is incorporated in the BOU program, then we can learn it well as 
we have to pass the examination. However, if we do the computer courses of 3 to 6 months 
outside, it is extra expenditure. In terms of jobs, it is always mentioned that applicants 
having computer knowledge will get preference. So I think computer courses must be 


26 


introduced at different levels of the BOUprogram". Similarly, male student Asadul pointed 
out, "Many students also have jobs. It is hard for them to find time to study printed books 
but if they have the learning content and modules in web and mobile based platforms, it 
will be really helpful to therrl'. It appears that BOU students perceive they have the 
readiness for integration of ICT into their programs and want it carried out through student 
support and more importantly through their tutors. Surprisingly, only one of five tutor 
participants, Jahangir, discussed the potential impact of ICTs in distance education, 
proposing that, "ICTs should be added to every course of BOU as most of our students are 
professionals. So if they know how to operate computers, Internet and mobile phones. We 
can think of web and mobile based learning systems alsd' . It is interesting to note that the 
informed public members appeared to be more aware than tutors of the need for 
integration of ICT in DE. 

Although several ICT initiatives had taken place at BOU in the last 10 years (2005-2015) 
with the assistance of local/international agencies, the SRG members acknowledged the 
limitations of ICT infrastructure and its practices at the university and its affiliated study 
centers across the country. Senior academic Sarker, highlighted how ,"In 2007Bangladesh 
Virtual Classroom project (BVC) with mobile SMS technology was conducted by Swedish 
Agency, SPIDER but could not sustain". A similar situation occurred with the Virtual 
Interactive Classroom (VIC) project by Korean agency KOIKA. This resonates with issues 
raised by Gronlund and Islam (2010) about sustainability and funding issues impacting on 
ICT development, such as with the BVC project, while the VIC project had stalled due to 
inadequate manpower and limited infrastructure at BOU. Senior academic Mak 
optimistically discussed the use of BIMS (BOU Information Management System), stating 
that," we have already developed software called BIMS. In this software we can upload all 
the things, all the information, all the results from anywhere in Bangladesh...kind of web 
basedsysterrf . However, WI-FI has not yet installed at BOU headquarters, which could be 
useful in facilitating the wider use of BIMS. Furthermore, the computer labs at the study 
centers belong to individual institutions, which are often equipped with mobile Internet, 
but there is no assurance that DE students are able to access the facility. While BOU is 
generally considered the only feasible option for educating and training the huge 
population of Bangladesh, the question remains, is BOU ready to accept the challenge? 

It was evident from the discussions that some ICT resources are in place but not utilised 
due to insufficient human resources or inappropriateness in terms of student needs and the 
context. This suggests the need for examining both short-term and long-term policy 
development regarding ICT procurement, its integration with delivery methods, e-content 
repository and training and support systems at different levels for BOU staff. The above 
scenario primarily links into the ASTIDE model, which incorporates Giddens' (1984) view 
that in the process of structuration human agents build into technology certain interpretive 
schemes (how to use the technology in a meaningful way and whether prior knowledge on 
technology use is required), facilities (resources required for technology use such as 
physical equipment and support systems) and norms (institutionally sanctioned methods 
of technology use). More importantly, the ASTIDE model suggests rigorous policies (e.g. 
ICT policy, HR policy) and their implementation at different levels and with appropriate 
timeframes. This would need to be established through innovation, modernisation and if 
required, collation of policies and practices with local and international providers, which 
emerge from the 3rd triad 'legitimation-norm-sanction' of the ASTIDE model and are 
inherent in the practices of stable and renowned DE providers such as the OU UK 
(Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a, 2016b). 

Integration of VET into DE Programs 

Employability was emphasised by Bangladeshi community participants. For instance, 
female student Jayeda pointed out that, "...in BOU programs we read only theoretical 
aspects - if the practical things like computer, mechanical activities, etc. can be 
incorporated in the BOU program, its acceptability will definitely improve. VET education 
should be introduced in BOU programsf. Most female participants intended acquiring 
employment through completing DE programs, as highlighted by Doly's comment, "if we 


27 


get this type of training at the local centers, we can do small and medium type of business 
sitting at home and at the same time take care of our children". Among the teacher-tutors, 
Jahangir supported integrating vocational courses in DE programs, stating," BOUprograms 
are mainly syllabus based theoretical education. There is no vocational education and 
training courses available...Therefore VET can be introduced'. Similarly, informed public 
member Afroza suggested, "practical oriented courses on home economics, child care or 
small business can be helpful for housewives". The above discussion suggests the need of 
integrating VET into DE programs at BOU. 

The SRG members were also positive about the integration of vocational components in DE 
programs in order to provide more inclusive and time-driven education to the community. 
Senior academic Anis explained, "BOU has taken on the project to integrate vocational 
education with general education in the junior secondary (Grade 6-8) and secondary level 
(Grade 9-10) as the maximum number of students is dropping out on or before passing SSC 
(Grade 10). This project may help the early drop outs to be equipped with knowledge and 
skills including the programs of carpenting, weaving, tailoring, fish processing, etc. so that 
they can work in the garments and other sectors effectively and also get the opportunity 
to complete their education at the BOW. This was supported by another academic, Mak's 
response, " We do not have any programs for the people working abroad. But we have a 
plan to design this type of program. We have undertaken one project to train the garment 
workers. They are mostly poor females ... A special junior secondary program has been 
designed to include this kind of people!'. However, without carefully formulated policy and 
its systematic implementation, such expansion may result in poor sustainability as occurred 
with other projects at BOU. 

The emphasis of the participants on incorporating practically oriented courses in the BOU 
curriculum suggests that long-established structural changes would be required by BOU in 
its institutional policies and practices (Giddens, 1984). The change process can be 
explained at the individual and institutional level using the underlying propositions of the 
ASTIDE model. From the individual perspective, it is completely based on the individual 
agencies as to how they see the benefits of DE systems. The neo-humanist approach (Sein, 
2005) of preparing oneself for the local job market and also Sen's (1999) work on individual 
freedom to make life choices, were reflected in the views of the participants. From the 
institutional perspective, political modernisation and policy innovation suggest renewal of 
policy making with the changing relationships between state, market and civil society, and 
day-to-day interactions between agents respectively (Arts & Van Tatenhove, 2004). This 
perspective suggests reform of the existing theory-based curriculum at BOU through 
incorporation of issues raised by concerned parties including integration of VET into the 
academic program. This would assist in developing regionally focused curricula, with the 
aim of engaging more local students and producing more skilled workers locally. From the 
data and literature, it would appear that this is what is required within Bangladeshi society. 

Overall Quality of DE Programs and Provisions 

Community perceptions towards DE programs and graduates are important in maintaining 
quality, yet within BOU even tutors have conflicting attitudes. While willing to teach DE 
classes, they often perceive the courses to be of lower quality compared to traditional 
programs. Female student Parvin, maintained," To improve distance education of BOU first 
we have to improve the attitude of the teacher-tutors who are taking our classes. They 
should respect us and our degreed'. Tutor Raju confirmed the existence of discrimination 
as, "a true factor we have to admit'. Another student Jayeda added that DE students are 
often considered as, "second class graduated' while Doly perceived that, "People in our 
society do not have any respect for the BOU graduated'. While problematic, this form of 
social discrimination can be addressed through the 2 nd triad of the ASTIDE model 
'domination-facility-power', by focusing on the human development approach (Sein & 
Harindranath, 2004). As Sen (1999) argues, through providing individuals with the 
opportunity to develop themselves to lead enjoyable lives, societal attitudes can be 
changed and this is what is required within Bangladeshi society. Recognition of the value 


28 


added to the lives of individuals through education, could change societal perceptions 
towards DE. 

Another concern related to the time frames provided for covering the DE course content. 
According to teacher-tutor Jahangir, " The course material is equal to the traditional 
education but the duration of the classes is very limited to complete the course. Only 20 
classes we get to complete a subject which is not enough'. Another teacher-tutor, Nawab 
mentioned that," in case of BA programs, there are only eight classes per course... it is very 
hard for us to even touch each of the topicd'. The majority of student participants also 
expressed concerns about the limitations of face-to-face offerings, where the syllabus was 
rarely completed. Often delays in supplying books or outdated course materials worsened 
the situation. It implies the expectation of the traditional teaching styles within the DE 
environment, which requires changes in beliefs and assumptions among all associated 
stakeholders. Giddens (1984) defines the structural changes in social practices, which is 
extended for DE by the ASTIDE model (Aktaruzzaman & Plunkett, 2016a), focusing on its 
1 st triad 'signification-interpretive scheme-communication'. This triad suggests interaction 
between different agents involved in DE to produce meaningful structures in order to 
change existing ones. Therefore, it would appear that the long-established transmission 
structure of teacher-centered learning currently perceived as part of BOU programing, 
needs to gradually shift to an interactive constructivist structure of student-centered 
learning in order to improve the overall quality of teaching and learning. 

Tutor roles and training needs also play an important role in providing quality DE, 
particularly in developing countries. Although BOU is the standalone DE provider in 
Bangladesh, it basically employs general education teachers from affiliated high schools 
and colleges to teach DE students on weekends, after completing a heavy workload in their 
own respective institutions during the week. This was reflected in the comments of 
informed public member, Anwar, who completed a Bachelor degree from BOU, "The 
teacher-tutors are usually busy for the whole week for their traditional classes .... So we 
cannot expect maximum support from them". Surprisingly, none of the teacher-tutors 
commented on this point. As per the context of the developing countries, they either endure 
the workload for income or cannot deny the top management (Sarker & Alam, 2007). Apart 
from the workload of tutors, the other issue arising from having the same tutors teaching 
both conventional and DE programs is the difficulty of switching roles and teaching 
methods between the two programs. It implies the need for tutor training towards DE 
orientation at BOU, which is currently very limited according to academics Mak, "training 
is there but not frequent...Centrally the university has no provision or do not offer this 
effectively right now/' and Sarker, " We are giving very limited scale training to them - it is 
really negligible!'. Evidence of a communication disconnect between tutors and 
administrators was also obvious. The consequence is that they are bound to revert to the 
methods they are most conversant with, which is the conventional system of instruction. 
Linking this to the underlying theory of the ASTIDE model, the concept of self-development, 
policies and the instructional design together explicate the requirements of a DE tutor in 
developing countries. Therefore, it is important that BOU focuses on providing appropriate 
training and adequate support for tutors. The role of tutors may need to be redefined with 
the incorporation of effective support structures. 

The concerns driving the conflict in the perceptions of quality also include the admissions 
process and absenteeism. The issue of admission processes was reflected in the 
commentary of informed public member, Tuhin, who pronounced "... I think the quality of 
distance education of BOU is very poor. There is no entry requirement for admission in BOU 
programs. So how can you maintain the quality?". Regarding the absenteeism issue, tutor 
N u r u I o bserved," there is a misconception among the students that if we get admission into 
BOU programs, we will pass. No need to attend any classes, we only have to attend the 
examinations. This leads to graduates with questionable levels of competence and affects 
the general public perception towards BOU programs and graduates in Bangladesh. There 
was no mention by SRG participants of the presence of a rigorous quality assurance system 
through accreditation by national/international agencies at BOU, such as AACSB for 


29 



business programs, AMBA for MBA programs and ABET for engineering and technology 
programs. 

SUGGESTIONS 

Based on the data, the review of literature and context of developing countries, the 
following recommendations emerged as worthy of consideration by BOU: 

> Structuring a comprehensive support system for students, teacher-tutors in 
study centers and academics at BOU headquarters appears to be critical for an 
effective DE system in Bangladesh. Regular training for tutors and academics 
needs to be prioritized. 

> Incorporating universities in Bangladesh into the BOU operation with cross- 
institutional credit possibilities, could provide more dedication of BOU staff to 
research and development and more options for BOU students to obtain a degree 
from multiple institutions, thereby gaining better recognition in the community. 

> A flexible option of study in terms of content delivery method (study center 
model/fully Internet based model/study at home model (traditional), institutions 
(university/degree colleges/BOU itself), and type of education 
(general/technical/integrated). 

> Course materials that are self-instructional, interactive and up to date. Timely 
delivery of printed texts needs to be ensured alongside their availability in 
mobile/online formats through mobile apps or BOU website. ICT oriented courses 
could be introduced along with other foundation courses for students before 
entering any formal programs at BOU. 

> Generating skills is important in the new global agenda of the 'green economy', 
where individuals from all walks of life and in all countries would concentrate on 
sustainable competencies for future workplace. Therefore reform needs to 
support convergence in content of general and vocational education aimed at 
new skills development through DE. 

> The quality assurance and accreditation of DE programs appears to be a difficult 
task for individual institutions to handle, and therefore needs to be tackled at a 
broader, national and international level. It is a viable and cost-effective method 
to promote and strengthen cooperation and collaboration among institutions 
operating through DE such as Commonwealth Open School Association (COMOSA) 
in Commonwealth member states. 

CONCLUSION 

The study described in this paper investigated the distance education system in Bangladesh 
from the point of view of local Bangladeshi community and institutional representatives of 
BOU. The major themes/issues emerging from the juxtaposition of the data were: flexibility 
and support, course materials and delivery, use of ICTs, integration of VET into DE 
programs, and overall quality of DE programs and provisions at BOU. The ASTIDE 
theoretical model was used as an analytical tool to address the underlying issues of DE in 
Bangladesh, with findings suggesting that community perceptions differ from institional 
ones, though similarities were evidenced in some cases. A well-structured policy 
framework would be important in assisting with the implementation of the above 
recommendations in light of the propositions of the ASTIDE framework. Therefore, 
educationists and policy makers of developing countries need to develop an effective and 
sustainable DE system through incorporating community perceptions in the policy 
formulation process and associated practices that will help prepare developing countries 
like Bangladesh for the challenges of the 21 st century. 


30 


BIODATA and CONTACT ADDRESSES of AUTHORS 


Md AKTARUZZAMAN is an Assistant Professor in the Department of 
Technical and Vocational Education at Islamic University of 
Technology (IUT), a subsidiary organ of OIC, Gazipur, Bangladesh. 
Dr. Aktar gained his PhD in Educational Technology from Monash 
University Australia at May 2016. His academic interest areas are 
learning analytics, online learning management system, virtual 
classrooms, open and distance learning, electronic and mobile 
based learning, and human computer interaction. He has more than 
20 journal articles published in international indexes, 2 books and 
other papers submitted to international meetings. As part of his 
PhD, he proposed a comprehensive theory for distance education 
and was invited to present the theory and its application to a conference at Harvard 
University and Canadian Initiative for Distance Education Research (CIDER), Athabasca 
University respectively. Dr Aktar received at least seven prestigious scholarships and 
awards during his doctoral studies in Australia. 

Md AKTARUZZAMAN 

Department of Technical and Vocational Education 
Islamic University of Technology (IUT), Gazipur 1704, Bangladesh 
Phone: +880 1845 266409 
E-mail: akhtar81@iut-dhaka.edu 

Margaret PLUNKETT is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean 
(Learning and Teaching) in the Faculty of Education and Arts at 
Federation University, Australia. Assoc Prof Plunkett has an interest 
in effective pedagogical practices relating to online learning, as well 
as teacher professional development, gifted education and 
alternative educational settings. She has won a number of 
institutional and national awards in recognition of her teaching 
excellence. Assoc Prof Plunkett has published and presented widely, 
both with colleagues and with her former research students. 




Margaret PLUNKETT 

Faculty of Education and Arts 

Federation University Australia, Churchill, Victoria, Australia 

Phone: +61 03 51226980 

E-mail: margaret.plunkett@federation.edu.au 

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APPENDIX 

Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Discussion Guide 

Individual interviews for Senior Academics and Directors from BOU: 

The individual interviews will focus on existing condition of distance education in 
Bangladesh along with its historical development, mission and vision, and the role played 
by their institution towards promoting quality education at home and abroad. The 
interviews will explore the following topics and questions: 

1. Can you give a brief description of the historical or chronological development 
of distance education in your country as well as your institution? 

2. What is the role of your institution in promoting quality education at home and 
abroad? 

3. What are the existing conditions of distance education in your institution in 
terms of 

a) infrastructural support; 

b) course construction and delivery; 

c) research and evaluation and 

d) overall management? 

4. In your view what are the challenges that your institution face in developing 
innovative and creative practices with new information and communication 
technologies (ICTs)? 

5. What are the missions and visions of your institution in promoting national and 
transnational distance education? Do you have any policy framework to 
materialize these objectives? 

Focus group discussion for the Bangladeshi community: 

The focus group is an opportunity for a group of BOU students, teacher-tutors and 
informed members of the public within Jhikargacha Thana of Jessore, Bangladesh to talk 
together about their views and the challenges they see as impacting distance education 
and its graduates in Bangladesh. The following topics and questions will be explored: 

1. What do you know about the distance education program of the Bangladesh Open 

University (BOU)? 

2. How do you perceive the quality of distance education in Bangladesh offered by 

BOU? 

3. What do you think about the job prospects for distance education graduates in 

Bangladesh? Are they getting equal opportunities in the job selection? 

4. What do you think about the social value of distance education graduates? What 

type of recognition does their degree get in society? 

5. How do you think distance education in Bangladesh can be improved? 

In addition to the above questions, 

■ The students group will be asked a number of questions on their courses, teacher 
support, examination and grading and use of ICTs in their program. 


34