Science education is in crisis in Bangladesh. The discipline has been seeing a declining pupil interest over the last several years. A recent annual report by the University Grants Commission, the higher education regulatory body of Bangladesh, finds that “only 11% students at all higher educational institutions have enrolled in science and technology disciplines, while the enrolment numbers in arts, social sciences, business studies, and others stand at 89%.” This phenomenon is not new. It has been going on for quite a long time. That number was 11% in 2019 and 2020. 12% in 2016 and 2017. And 11% in 2015.
It is a complex challenge and left unsolved, it’ll have far-reaching consequences for Bangladesh. There already have pronounced impacts of this decline in science education in the country.
But why has science education fallen out of favor in a country where most parents want their kids to become either doctors or engineers? It is an important question that has no easy answer.
There are many reasons behind this consistent decline. Science is expensive education. In many instances, science is not fun. Quality teachers are a scarce resource in most places. The majority of schools are ill-equipped with little to no lab facilities for science education. Due to teaching quality and lack of access to lab facilities, students don’t enjoy science. It is neither fun nor exciting.
This fun aspect of the challenge can offer an interesting clue as to how we may try to curry favor among young kids for science. Children are generally curious beasts. They need excitement to remain engaged in something. They like to explore. If you observe a five-year-old, this bit is clear. He is poking at everything to figure out how it works and why. That’s probably why many people call children little scientists. But it’s apparent from our state that our system has managed to make science dull enough to scare away both children and parents.
Fixing science education in Bangladesh will require major policy adjustments and other changes. But making science popular among children and young adults should be a relatively easier task. While it will not solve the entirety of the decline of science problem, it can significantly increase the number of kids who will want to become scientists when they grow up. Igniting that dream in itself should be an amazing feat.
This is where OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho, a locally designed and made science kit in Bangladesh comes into play. Bigganbaksho is designed, produced, and marketed by OnnoRokom Electronics, a subsidiary of the education and technology-focused local conglomerate OnnoRokom Group. The ambition, the company says, is to make science fascinating to kids and increase interest in science and help kids learn important life skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, failure tolerance, and so on.
Each Bigganbaksho kit includes tools for practical science experiments, manuals, video tutorials, and storybooks. Many guardians suggest the kit has become an essential learning tool for their kids. For distribution, Bigganbaksho works with bookstores across the country and modern retail stores such as Swapno and others. The kit is also available on Rokomari.com.
OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho was launched in 2014. The company has been doing this work for the last 7-8 years. It has not changed the science education landscape in Bangladesh. But the company says it has made significant inroads. More parents are now interested in its kits. More teachers see value in real-life experiments. And Bigganbaksho has been a runaway success among students. The company has made many changes over the years based on user feedback. Incorporating textbook experiments. Adding instruction manuals. Developing an accompanying app with video tutorials. Working with education sector stakeholders. All these efforts have enabled the company to design a science kit that meets the needs of our students.
But the challenges remain. Many parents remain shy about investing in a science kit while education remains expensive. The adoption of the kit is still mostly urban-centric. The company says its next goal is to take it to more people and build the kit as a solution at the intersection of a school science lab and a toy for kids.
Science kits are a common thing in most parts of the world but it was not in Bangladesh until 2014. There were imported kits available but they didn’t consider local education requirements. What science kits usually does is that it makes science interesting to children. It enables hands-on learning and makes science real to the kids. Science kits are a great substitute for meaningless toys in many ways. Their effect can be life-changing, creating a lasting impression of science in kids.
A brainchild of OnnoRokom Group Co-founder and Chairman Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, the idea goes well with the company's work. OnnoRokom Group has always said that it aims to contribute to building a different Bangladesh. Bigganbaksho is part of its effort to build a generation with a greater passion for science and creativity and an understanding of morality.
OnnoRokom as a conglomerate has meaningful initiatives in education, ecommerce, software, renewable energy, etc. OnnoRokom Electronics is well known for designing and manufacturing several interesting products including a solar energy solution, and a vehicle tracking solution among other products. OnnoRokom Group also runs a company called Tech Shop that sells robotic and electronic components online. Tech Shop was founded to address various challenges science students face in finding components for running various academic experiments. The group also has a company called Pi Labs that designs interesting hardware tech products. To that end, it is not unusual for OnnoRokom to get into creating a science kit.
To that end, Bigganbaksho was born with an ambition to make science interesting to kids and promote science education in the country. Today, it sells 12 different science kits offering basic science knowledge for different age groups and K12 classes.
There are kits focused on specific subjects such as light, electricity, magnet, chemistry, physics, and several other subjects. A standalone kit called Focus Challenge aims to help kids build concentration and focus.
Often when kids learn various scientific concepts in a classroom setting, many of the concepts they learn may appear theoretical. They might consider them unreal and irrelevant to real-life experiences. But when they use a science kit to experiment with various concepts, it allows them to learn these concepts practically. They see the complex concepts of chemistry is something real and it can illuminate their small minds.
Reading certainly helps with learning. But when kids experiments in real life it allows them to learn more important skills such as problem-solving, dealing with uncertainties, dealing with failures, trying repeatedly to find solutions, and so on. Science experiments are fun but rarely easy. These experiments are fun precisely because they are complex and offers opportunity to discover new realm. It creates new learning opportunities for kids. The Bigganbaksho team says Bigganbaksho is precisely designed to achieve these goals — to popularize science and help kids develop skills like problem-solving.
Children are born scientists, always observing natural phenomena and human behavior in action. Two years old is always poking around the house, testing everything he/she can get his/her hands on.
While we recognize that science education is essential, it is also important to realize that one of the best ways to encourage children to love science is to make it something they can play with at home. That’s why science kits like Bigganbaksho can be both fun and beneficial to children of all ages.
When children play with science kits, they're creating all sorts of powerful cognitive anchors. Play makes learning fun and exciting. When you play something, you develop a love and fascination for it. It becomes dear to you. To that end, science kits can effectively make science education fun and play for children.
“Science kits are best when they encourage kids to explore and help kids develop a genuine fascination for science and problem solving”, says Ratul Khan. Mr. Khan looks after the product development of OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho. “We have designed the kits keeping that in mind. We spend a lot of time making the experiments sufficiently difficult but exciting to solve so that they are engaging. At the same time, we make sure they are not too difficult for kids that they give up. We keep all those criteria in mind when designing and developing our kits.”
OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho (Science kits) offers some of the most interesting and engaging projects with easy-to-follow instructions and scientific explanations. Bigganbaksho has science kits based on age as well for specific classes for all K12 students from class 5 to class 10.
Kits designed for a particular class cover all the textbook experiments for that class. For instance, a kit for physics for class 10 covers all the experiments in the class 10 textbook. It means a Bigganbaksho science kit not only encourages kids to love science but also helps them to learn their academic lessons better.
Each kit contains 20 to 50 experiments. Kits come with an accompanying app that allows kids and their grown-ups to view video instructions and lessons. Each kit also includes manuals with beautiful drawings and instructions, scientific games, and smart puzzle cards.
Bigganbaksho offers two versions of the kits — Bangla and English. Kits can be bought stand-alone or as a combo for an entire class or subject.
Bigganbaksho says it’s never an entirely profit-purpose initiative. Thus the company says it has always tried to keep the prices affordable. The price of these science kits ranges from Tk650 to Tk1,500.
“I love them, and they work really well,” One parent tells us. “Children love the kits. They come with an accompanying app that makes learning about experiments even more fun. It is apparent that makers have spent quite a bit of time in designing the kits. My son is not very good in science subjects. This is the first time I saw him being interested in something science related."
The lack of interest or fear of science subjects is an old thing. Few students get the opportunity to work in a laboratory. Well-equipped school laboratories are hard to come by. Moreover, there is a general tendency to portray science as the most difficult and boring discipline. It creates fear in kids. They consider science as not fun and interesting and difficult. So they stay away from it.
Bigganbaksho team says they want to break that stereotypical perception about science. They want to show the children and their parents that science can be fun and exciting. And that children can understand and do apparently complex scientific theories and ideas. And that scientific ideas and theories are happening all around us. They are real phenomena and are not mere textbook stories.
Bigganbaksho has come a long way from its early days. When it was first launched in the market, it was a new thing. It was hard to convince both students and parents of the utility of a science kit. That has changed to some extent over the last six-seven years.
At least urban parents are now more open to ideas of science kits. Teachers are open to ideas of science kits. Education sector stakeholders including the government have also shown some interest in the kits. The Bigganbaksho team has worked with various stakeholders in the past years. It has worked with schools and stakeholders from the education ministry to take the kits to more students.
But the challenges remain in terms of the wider adoption of Bigganbaksho. The company says it usually needs to convince two sets of users — parents and students. While it has made some meaningful progress, a long road awaits.
It has made several meaningful changes and adaptations based on the market feedback. In the beginning, Bigganbaksho did not design materials targeting age groups or classes. The company has since changed its approach. The company has introduced kits for all K12 classes and subjects. Children now don’t merely learn science concepts, it adds to their academic studies, a common concern of modern parents who are almost always wary about the grades of their kids.
But the purpose to make science fun, exciting, and something to pursue remains strong. “Learning should be fun and exciting”, says Mr. Khan. “We always try to make learning science fun, which is why we launched kits to help children learn through playing. Many parents tell us that their kids got back to science after they started using the kit.”
Bigganbaksho has received excellent reviews over the past years. The company is working on several areas to expand. It is working to further bring down the price to make it accessible to more people. And it is looking to work more with schools and education sector stakeholders.
In a country where science education is in decline and schools suffer from a lack of equipment and resources to teach science in an interesting way to ignite interest in students, products like Bigganbaksho deserve both appreciation and attention.
Now a more important question, why is science education important? And what’s happening in schools with science education?
In a 2021 paper on Primary science teaching in Bangladesh three researchers: Mustafizur Rahman Talukder, Colin Green, and Mamun-ur-Rashid offer an insight into the state of science education in Bangladesh and the stark gap between intention and action that remains in everything that we do in this country.
“About a half of the teachers believe that the purpose of teaching science at elementary level is to develop students' scientific mind and nurturing students' inquiry,” write the authors of the paper. “Interestingly, their views are in line with the policy documents and curriculum objectives which stated that the aims for science education are preparing the learners to develop their science skills, the practice of knowledge, and creativity equal to an international standard.”
It would have been excellent if the stated objective of science teaching and reality found a common ground. But it rarely happens. The authors then go on to explain what really happens in our schools.
“However, it was found that a significant number of teachers have differing opinions on the use of reading and understanding text, and the preparation of children for the following year's science objectives. These views were reinforced by students' surveys. Despite the government aims such as developing literacy in science and understanding of scientific knowledge classroom practice appeals to be dedicated to the passing of ‘high stakes’ testing.”
This reality has been apparent in the consistent decline in science education in Bangladesh over the years.
This has a multitude of second-order consequences. One consequence is that it is hard to find qualified science graduates. In fact, it has become increasingly challenging to find qualified human resources in many disciplines. It affects innovation, entrepreneurship, and development initiatives of the country. For instance, employers routinely complain that they struggle to fill science-related vacancies. Education experts and stakeholders suggest the government should pay due attention to science and technology-based education.
The decline in quality and standard is not limited to science education alone. It is a challenge across disciplines. Stakeholders across sectors complain that young people coming out of universities lack crucial skills like problem-solving, creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and other relevant skills required in today’s highly technological and fast-changing world. This is a major warning sign that can put Bangladesh at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with the world.
But what are the causes behind the decline of science education or that of quality?
Authors of the previously mentioned paper identify several factors: “the majority of sampled teachers indicated that they lack classroom space (63%) and have insufficient teaching materials (68%). Furthermore, about three quarters (73%) reported that their schools do not provide sufficient materials and they have very little opportunity to use digital strategies.”
There are other challenges. Science education remains expensive and is usually beyond the reach of many people. Qualified teachers are unevenly distributed across the country. The majority of schools are ill-equipped to properly support science education. For instance, science labs are a rarity in schools outside of major metropolitans. In many places, while there are labs, a shortage of instructors and relevant equipment makes it impossible to run the labs.
Since science education is often expensive and students often struggle because of the poor quality teaching methods and lack of practical learning experiences, many students eventually choose not to pursue science. But it is imperative that we create enthusiasm for science education.
Apparently, the existing regime of science education has not only failed to achieve the previously mentioned ambition of science education. Students don’t want to study science. Parents don’t want their children to pursue science education. It is a disaster often conveniently overlooked.
There are many challenges facing science education in Bangladesh. It is a complex problem that needs careful policy decisions to find meaningful solutions.
However, some small changes can bring interesting outcomes.
One such change is making science interesting, accessible, and real to children and parents.
Two common complaints many students and parents have about science education in Bangladesh are it is expensive and many schools lack science labs and adequate teaching facilities.
Can we make science experiments accessible and fun to students and worthwhile to parents? Can making science experiments accessible increase interest in science and improve the cognitive abilities of students? Can fun experiments appeal to parents enough that they will invest in science kits and similar things?
This is where initiatives like Bigganbaksho can play a constructive role.
OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho is a science kit designed for Bangladesh. Claimed to be the first science kit of the country, Bigganbaksho aims to make science fun and exciting for kids while also helping students learn important skills such as problem-solving, high failure tolerance, critical thinking ability, and so on.
Bigganbaksho has evolved meaningfully over the years. The product started with one general kit and it has expanded to almost all science subjects in K12. The academic focus brought into kits over the years has helped it to find a broader user group. Parents now see a valid reason for buying the kit.
The company has also tried to make the kits broadly relevant to science teaching in the country. It has been looking to work with schools and government stakeholders.
Interest drives our life. People, given opportunities, usually tend to follow their interests and passions in life. These interests, however, are not something that happens automatically. In most instances, it is memetic — we learn it from other people. We grow up around a doctor father and end up becoming a doctor. We grow up around a teacher mother and end up becoming a teacher. Divergence happens but those also follow some sort of influence. A primary teacher we admired inspired love for science and so on.
It means you can influence the interest of your kids. For parents, the best time to nudge the interest of kids is when their kids are young. Human beings are malleable. More so for young human beings. It means if you can ignite the interest for tinkering and tweaking in your child at a young age, it can potentially shape their lifelong interest. To that end, a science kit can help shape that interest.
Science kits are essentially toys. Children are born with natural tendencies for exploration. It is how children learn. To that end, most young kids should love science kits that allow them to explore fascinating things and tinker with things. If that is the case, I would say parents would do very well if they invest in a Bigganbaksho kit instead of an expensive toy for their five/six/seven years old.
Similarly, a science kit can be relevant for schools, teachers, and education stakeholders.
Many schools don’t have science labs in Bangladesh. It makes sense for the teachers that they take advantage of products like Bigganbaksho to demonstrate real-life science experiments to their pupils. It can significantly improve learning outcomes.
For OnnoRokom Bigganbaksho, it offers an excellent opportunity to create solutions for teachers and schools. The company can also look to collaborate with education sector stakeholders to create more solutions around this idea such as turning science kits into minilabs and so on.
Science is critical for human progress. It is alarming to see the decline of science education in Bangladesh. It is imperative that we take the initiatives to make science education fun and exciting for our kids again. Because today’s children will be the scientists and engineers and innovators of tomorrow. Consequently, making science fun and fascinating appears quite a powerful solution at least, to begin with. To that end, a Bigganbaksho kit can be the start of science education for your kid.
Cover photo: OnnoRokom BigganBaksho