Post-primary basic and continuing education (PACE) program of BRAC is involved in many aspects of quality improvement of secondary education. Poor preparation of teachers has been detected as one of the reasons of quality decline in education in Bangladesh. Teachers need refreshers courses both in content and proper pedagogies for teaching. In addition, in urban areas where families are comparatively well-off, parents and guardians encourage their children to study and stay in schools even after school hours to have extra teaching. But the students in rural areas do not attend schools regularly because classroom situation hardly attracts them. Teachers also find it difficult to retain the interest of the students in the large classes of 60 to 100 learners. This environment contributes to the rural schools' inability to retain students till the completion of their secondary education.
PACE has explored the difficult areas to identify methods to improve the teaching-learning scenario in the classrooms to enhance students' overall learning environment. It is seen that in many countries of the world IT is being used for improving the academic learning outcomes of children. Considering this fact, PACE started developing the Computer-Aided Learning program in 2004 to improve the teaching capacity of the teachers and to make the classes much more interesting, interactive and exciting for the students so that they become interested and want to stay in school beyond their usual hours.
The prime objective of the program is to develop interactive education software based on the national curriculum. Any sort of endeavor needs piloting to assess whether and how a new thing can be guided further forward. So, PACE selected seven schools at Mirzapur Upazila for pilot program to develop the software and see how it works and how far it makes the students interested and benefited. The program started with mathematics and later English and science were included in January 2006.
The broader objectives of the Computer Aided Learning (CAL) are:
- To move from the teacher-centered classroom to a more interactive one;
- To make the class more interactive and engaging;
- To ensure conceptual clarity and better application;
- To increase teachers' understanding of the lessons;
- Self-learning provision for both teachers and students and
- To familiarize the rural students and teachers with the modern computer technology.
CAL materials will be used as a supplementary tool for Teacher Training which is another significant component of BRAC education program particularly in the secondary education. Various questions, visual aids and relevant examples will guide the trainee teachers to facilitate the learning of the students and make the classroom more interactive, learner-centered and comfortable. The materials can be used for their own development. To make a class interactive and effective, the teachers need to ask various questions and use relevant examples.
The CAL materials will help the teachers to learn these techniques. CAL materials will function as a learning facilitation tool for classroom teaching. Teachers can use the materials to explain topics and to facilitate the learning points/skills that are coordinated with the textbooks.
To select the schools the following criteria were followed:
- The Head Teacher was ready to cooperate with PACE in all respects to implement the materials of CAL.
- The school would spare one classroom for holding CAL class.
- The school would take the responsibilities to protect all computer equipment given by PACE for conducting CAL class .
- The school enjoys regular power supply.
- The school was either for girls or majority students are girls.
- A gonokendra (village library-another initiative of BRAC) was attached to the school.
- The subject based teachers (mathematics and English) received PACE training in both first and second modules.
Forty-one teachers of the seven piloting schools have already been trained so that they can use CAL materials comfortably in their classroom situation.
The CAL training in all the three subjects (English, Science and Mathematics) is divided into two parts. Rural teachers usually do not have any access to computer operation. So, the first part of the CAL training is dedicated to introducing the teachers to the function of computer in three or four days.
Teacher's training is a significant part of the process of developing CAL materials. It is observed that the trainees who are practicing teachers provide useful feedback on developed lessons. Therefore, it is very important for the CAL materials developers to participate in the teacher training. The materials developers learn the drawbacks of the lessons. Their participation will enhance the quality of training as they introduce and explain the materials to the teachers better than any other skilled trainers.
While developing the materials at the piloting stage, the developers and IT team targeted the lesson school-term wise and developed materials accordingly. To collect feedback on lessons imparted to the teachers, two reflection formats were given to the teachers. At the end of training, the participants prepared term wise lesson plan where they followed their own class routines. Two teachers from one school prepared their own schools lesson plan. Besides receiving 6-10 days training in CAL materials, the teachers also attended one or half day refreshers meeting. The positive response of the students and schools tells us that Computer Aided Learning is getting ground. Really it is getting popularity among the rural students. This sort of learning can be spread throughout rural Bangladesh.