HSC and SSC candidates as well as younger students are at risk of losing an academic year due to school closures and exam suspensions to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus
Experts have suggested that Bangladesh reopen schools in a strategic manner during the ongoing lockdown, as students may otherwise begin working to help their families cope with financial problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Currently, HSC and SSC candidates as well as younger students are at risk of losing an academic year due to school closures and exam suspensions to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
There are about 17.2 million students at the primary school level, while 1,635,240 candidates are waiting for SSC results and over a million students are awaiting the HSC exams, Education Ministry data says.
“We fear many students might not return to class due to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19. Many might join the workforce. It is better to re-open schools with proper preventive measures,” said education specialist Golam Kibria of Educo.
“However, the reopening process is not an easy job. All health guidelines have to be followed strictly; schools need to be prepared as well as students, teachers and guardians,” Educationist and social activist Rasheda K Choudhury told this newspaper.
Public health expert Be-Nazir Ahmed believes first and second graders should resume school first, after taking all necessary safety measures, as being confined at home for so long is harmful for their mental growth.
“Let’s mark the country into three zones - red, yellow, and green. Schools can be opened in the green zones, where there are not more than ten live Covid-19 cases,” he said.
If safety measures prove to be effective, the government can begin opening schools in the other zones as well, he added.
Chairperson of the department of educational and counseling psychology of University of Dhaka, Professor Mahjabeen Haque, said interactions with teachers and friends at classes or school playgrounds cannot be replicated through online classes and apt parenting.
“Six months of lockdown might take a toll on their mental developmental and socialization process,” she said.
Educationist Rasheda K Chowdhury said: “The government is concentrating on keeping the learning process going online, but not every family has internet access or a TV. Not all children can benefit from this system.”
Not quite an inclusive approach?
Bangladesh has gone for a mixed teaching approach, but educational measures are not yet totally inclusive.
Several school teachers in Dhaka said they are now using a mixture of real-time interactive classes, pre-recorded material, and homework-based digital classes on a small scale, with 40-70% of students attending regularly.
Students in rural areas and from marginalized portions of society remain out of reach.
A recent UNICEF survey shows only 50% of students have access to classes through television. Furthermore, television classes are not interactive.
Iqbal Hossain, education specialist (education and skill) for adolescent and out of school children at UNICEF, said around 1.7m children (who had earlier dropped out) study at NGO run schools or learning centres (non-formal education). They may drop out again if the closures extend too long.
Now, UNICEF and the government are trying to use four mediums of education—TV, a website [https://eduhub.gov.bd/], radio, and mobile phones.
Reopening can be an opportunity
Reopening of schools may seem like an experiment is being on young students, but it is more an exercise in risk-balancing, experts said
“Schools are the most powerful engines of social mobility in any society. Let the children in and let them learn,” Prof Be-Nazir said.
Education Specialist Golam Kibria advised to use this as an opportunity to build a healthy environment at schools, with health guidelines that last even after the end of the pandemic.
IPSOM Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed said proper management of school transport is necessary for public health, and the government can begin establishing a system.
“Every class will have a captain, who will lead students onto buses, oversee the wearing of masks and gloves, and the use of sanitizer before boarding,” he said
However, Rasheda K Chowdhury stressed that significant care and expenditure needs to be taken before any reopening.
“Otherwise, the children will be infected and it would push the country backward,” she said.