AMS Academy embarked on its journey in April 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold. Currently, they have around 100 students and a pool of 30 experienced teachers.
Five-year-old Zoha begins her days bright and early, matching her parents’ schedule. However, like other children, she doesn’t head to school in the morning. Her day begins with arts and crafts and her afternoons are a playful blend of laughter and mischief with her cousins.
However, at 6pm sharp, she sits in front of her laptop and logs into her classroom all by herself.
Zoha’s parents are both doctors and they live in Cumilla. Their work requires them to change cities all the time. This is why, when Zoha was ready to start school, they were worried about giving her a good education.
Then they learned about AMS Academy, the country’s first online-based English medium school.
“In our neighbourhood, and even in the city, there are no good English medium schools. AMS Academy has been a lifesaver for us. Their educational quality is exceptional, and we do not have to concern ourselves with commute, or other issues. Our daughter is safe at home with her grandparents and is able to attend classes independently,” said Dr Jafrin Jabin Rahman, Zoha’s mother.
She is determined that if she and her husband get posted to Dhaka, where options for choosing an English medium school are endless, they will still stick to AMS Academy.
The brains behind the academy
After completing graduation from Bangladesh University of Professionals, when Ekramul Hossain Khan and his wife Ashara Mubashshara embarked on their professional journeys, they had a common discovery in their respective work fields.
Ekramul, a graduate of marketing, started working with different startups in the country where he had to train many individuals in the companies. While doing that, he found that the majority of them struggled with English.
“The issue runs deep, originating at the school level. Our country’s education system still doesn’t put sufficient emphasis on English. Sadly, weaker competency in English deprives them of many competitive advantages,” he said.
On the other hand, Ashara, an aspiring school teacher who worked at renowned English medium schools like Sunnydale, South Breeze, Lakehead Grammar and Happy Times, found that many teachers do not have enough expertise to ensure quality education.
“Many of the teachers have Bangla medium backgrounds, making it challenging for them to grasp the English medium structure fully. As a result, their teaching methods tend to be traditional and, to some extent, less effective,” she said.
So, for a very long time, this couple wanted to establish a quality platform for education.
“Students from English medium schools consistently get added edge in their careers. The demand for these schools is continuously increasing, but they tend to cluster in major urban centres and secondary cities. This leaves many affluent families in remote areas with a desire to enrol their children in English medium schools but no viable options,” added Ekramul.
AMS Academy embarked on its journey in April 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold, and the world was adapting to the ‘new normal.’ They started with a pilot batch of pre-O level (Grade 10) students, comprising five individuals, guided by a team of three teachers.
In Ekramul’s words, his prior experience in an edu startup named ‘Coders Trust BD’ gave him an added edge as he has a solid understanding of how online courses are developed and marketed.
“Starting during Covid was a wise decision. Numerous individuals lost their jobs and many experienced salary cuts. Meanwhile, schools were not reducing their fees, posing challenges for countless families. Consequently, a significant number of students were discontinuing their education. As an online platform, we offered affordable pricing without any admission fees, which led to an overwhelmingly positive response,” he said.
Within six months, their student base increased to 30, and they onboarded six more teachers. Currently, they have around 100 students (pre-school to A level) and a pool of 30 experienced teachers. Each class contains a maximum student of 15 pupils. Four batches have graduated from the school so far.
The admission fee of a standard English medium school in areas like Gulshan, Banna and Dhanmondi ranges from Tk120,000 to Tk300,000 on average, per year. However, some high-end institutions charge more than Tk1,000,000 admission fee per year.
The monthly tuition fees of these English medium schools range from Tk10,000 to Tk30,000. Additionally, there are various other associated expenditures. Most students in higher grades also have to attend coachings and private tuitions.
“Being a teacher at these schools, I can confidently say the admission and tuition fees are nowhere justified. The teachers are underpaid, getting paid between Tk30,000 and Tk80,000. The infrastructure they own is not something so grand that can explain the hefty admission fee. Overall, I found these schools extremely commercialised and money-making businesses,” opined Ashara.
AMS Academy started with no tuition fee. Now, they charge an admission fee of Tk12,000 for the senior section and Tk4,000 for kids. The tuition fee is also Tk12,000 per month for the senior section and Tk3,000 for the junior section.
Besides, the course structures are designed in such a way that extra coaching classes or private tuition are not needed.
“Our teachers are highly experienced and well-informed. We allocate a significant portion of our operational budget to secure quality educators. Given that students in remote areas lack access to coaching or qualified private tutors, we design our courses and teaching methods to be self-sufficient,” said Ekramul.
The flip side
Although the concept of online school comes with many conveniences and affordability, there is the risk of reduced social interactions and limited opportunities for students to develop interpersonal skills.
Additionally, online learning may require students to be more self-disciplined and motivated, which can be a struggle for some. There’s also the challenge of screen time, as excessive hours in front of a computer can have adverse effects on young students’ health and well-being.
“We acknowledge the potential impact of the absence of a physical classroom on children’s holistic development. To address this, we organise fun classes for kids with minimal teacher supervision, creating opportunities for them to enjoy and build friendships. Moreover, we host various extracurricular activities such as debate competitions and arts and crafts contests,” said Ekramul.
AMS Academy also has a physical entity located at Lalmatia of the capital, where they house labs for the senior section. Students come here to practise lab experiments before the exams.
To date, the biggest challenge AMS Academy faces is acquiring passionate and experienced teachers. They only recruit teachers who are from English medium backgrounds.
“Strangely, in our society, school-level teaching is often seen as a career choice associated with failure. There’s a prevailing misconception that if one can’t secure a high-paying job, they turn to teaching. This has made it challenging for us to locate motivated, capable educators to lead successful batches,” Ashara said.