Vol. 5 Num 18 Mon. June 14, 2004  
Star City

Mushrooming ICT centres rip thousands off

Hundreds of computer training centres and colleges are virtually bilking students and their guardians out of money in the name of information and communication technology (ICT) education, officials and students alleged.

Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) in its 2000 study says 1,200 ICT training institutions are operating across the country. But officials said the number might have shot up to 2,000 now.

Most ICT centres have mushroomed in the capital over the years as the authorities apparently shut their eyes to the "business" and almost lost control of them.

"I don't know precisely how many centres and colleges offer computer education, but I think the number is more than a thousand now," said Sirajul Haque, BCC deputy director (training).

Some institutions and colleges have permission from the National University (NU) to offer ICT education. According to the NU inspection department, 66 colleges affiliated with the NU offer computer education.

"Now there is no chance for unauthorised colleges to run, as we have decided to form a committee to look into it," said Abdur Rashid, college inspector of the university.

An official at the science and information and communication technology ministry said official approval is not necessary to set up a training centre --the reason ICT centres are on the rise.

"If a car mechanic wants to set up an ICT centre in his garage with only one computer and without classrooms, there is no-one to look into," said the official, who declined to be named.

Young people run most training centres in their homes or shops in residential areas. Marketplaces or busy points in the capital are also bursting with training centres. "They teach 30 students with one computer. Sometimes, we bring our PCs from home when needed," said Shokal, student of a centre at Kataban.

The centres are making money out of ICT education, guardians and students said in an allegation that the owners and staff of some centres brushed aside claiming to be preparing the students for the competitive world.

"We do not force anybody to come and have training here. Guardians come with their children and want to make them catch up with the fast-track IT world," said Akmal Hossain, who launched his centre in Farmgate after he completed his university degree in Bangla.

An investigation reveals that the once-jobless youth set up these centres that provide short courses for one or two months. They lure students and their guardians into "ICT training" with computer-related words, emblazoned on signboards or in banners.

"In a technologically backward country like Bangladesh, students are moved by IT jargons such as Java, Corel Draw, MS Word, internet browsing and e-mailing. They believe they will learn something important to help them find a job," the ministry official said.

"An ICT college in the city runs classes on the first floor while a bakery is on the ground floor and the landlord lives on the third," a NU official said.

Most NU officials said they have never received any written complaint against any college but Dil Rowshan, assistant college inspector, said two students came up to her to complain that no classes were held for long as their college lacked adequate teachers. Most students left and enrolled in a private university.

"This is very sad and I asked them to file a written complaint and we will take action," she said.

ICT centre owners said the number of students dropped. "As there is sharp competition, they are not getting enough students. Moreover, some private universities have also come up with computer-related education. Now the students go to university to get formal and complete certificates," said Atul Bhakta, centre-in-charge of NIIT Bangladesh, a franchise institute that offers computer education around the world.

"Students and guardians now realise they cannot secure jobs after completing computer courses in these centres. Now they prefer to have four-year courses from university or reputed institutions," said Sirajul Haque of the BCC.

Atul Bhakta said the sector needs a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure the quality of students, teachers and the curricula for better IT education.

Two years ago, the government took an initiative to introduce ranking for private computer training centres but faced a setback after poor response from the institutes.

BCC officials say only 157 institutes submitted filled-in questionnaires and other papers. The authorities decided on the introduction of a ranking system in the wake of allegations. The system has not been complete yet.

. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain