Why should schools remain closed in haor areas or remote areas where the Covid-19 transmission rate is low, the deputy minister asks
Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel said on Saturday that policy makers were considering reopening schools in areas where the Covid-19 transmission rate was below 10%.
Educational institutions across Bangladesh had remained closed since March as per suggestion from a technical committee to prevent any risk of Covid-19 transmission, he said.
“Time has come to consider the current situation and think differently. Usually, decisions taken are always capital-based. But now we need to take decisions on how most of the people in Bangladesh are leading their lives. There is no alternative to reopening schools through maintaining health guidelines in this regard,” said the deputy minister.
He was speaking at a webinar, “Amra Thomkechi, Kintu Thamini,” organised by BRAC and moderated by its executive director Asif Saleh on Saturday.
“We fully agree on reopening schools by maintaining health guidelines and are now preparing the guidelines in this regard,” he said adding that school reopening, however, would have to be done in phases.
“Why should schools remain closed in haor areas or remote areas where Covid-19 transmission rate is low?” he questioned.
Nowfel spoke in favour of an area-wise reopening of schools and said he would place the proposal at the policy-making level where schools might remain closed in Dhaka and divisional cities, but could reopen in areas where the transmission rate was low.
All educational institutions, except Qawmi madrasas, in Bangladesh have been closed since March 17 and will remain closed till November 14 as per government directive.
Speaking at the webinar, Shiva Bhusal, education specialist at Unicef Bangladesh, said once some schools were reopened, it could help gain some experience which could be replicated in other areas.
Unicef would be advocating with development partners in terms of reopening schools and it could also help the government at the preparation stage as mentioned in the guideline for reopening schools, he added.
According to a plan on reopening schools, drafted by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, teachers will be asked to engage people in cleaning the schools 15 days before reopening as the institutions have remained closed for a long time.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said the government should start disseminating messages to people to get prepared for school reopening to make sure they were not engaging their children in child labour or child marriage.
She said the time had come to think about a reopening of schools considering the ground reality.
What other South Asian countries are doing
Globally, many countries have already started reopening their educational institutions in line with different strategies, as many argue that keeping them closed was doing more harm than good.
Different studies conducted around the world suggest that children and teenagers are less likely than adults to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms and die from the disease.
Shiva Bhusal said the learning atmosphere of a school could not be replicated through home education.
“We provide education through programs or the internet, but there is no environment where peer talk can be done among students. School environment is very important for children to ensure learning,” he said.
If schools remained closed, it would not only lead to drop-outs, but also affect the livelihoods of many while many girls might fall into child marriage if the school shutdowns were prolonged, opined the education expert.
Marginalized and malnourished students would be hit the most because of this, he added.
Citing some examples, he said some countries that opened schools may be seeing some cases. However it is not a huge issue as the number of new cases are not much higher.
In Nepal, the government asked schools to open based on local context while the decentralised government system of India could decide based on the context in some parts of the country.
Schools were open in the Maldives and programs were ongoing and most countries in South Asia were also on the verge of opening schools, he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued a guideline stating: “Deciding to close, partially close or reopen schools should be guided by a risk-based approach, to maximize the educational, well-being and health benefit for students, teachers, staff, and the wider community, and help prevent a new outbreak of Covid-19 in the community.”