Government fears resumption of academic activities may trigger mass spread of the deadly coronavirus among students
The government has resumed operations of everything, lifting most of the Covid-19 restrictions amid a high rate of deaths and infections, but kept the educational institutions closed with the in-person activities suspended since early March last year.
The closure of the schools, colleges and universities has hit the education sector hard with the fate of some 40 million students hanging in the balance. As a consequence, dropouts and child marriages have increased and more children are becoming dependent on devices.
Yet, the government is hesitant to take any concrete decision on the resumption of in-person activities at educational institutions when the country’s daily infection rate stands over 22%.
According to sources linked to the policymakers, the government does not want to bear the liability of the students being infected in large numbers after the school and colleges reopen. Before taking a concrete decision, the policymakers want to monitor the infection rate and the vaccination situation across the country.
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However, officials of the two ministries that oversee almost the entire education sector in the country say that they are all-set to resume schools and colleges, and are awaiting the government’s green signal.
All preparations have been made and the health safety guidelines have been sent to schools and colleges.
Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel said it all depends on two things — infection rate has to be lower and students need to be vaccinated.
“Then we can announce the reopening date,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Sources closely working with the government policymakers said that the primary focus of the government was to hold the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) examinations in person.
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Education Minister Dipu Moni recently said that they wanted to hold the two public exams in November and December respectively, only if the Covid situation improved significantly.
The minister said that the exams would be held on the revised syllabus the students have already been provided with.
The ministry is taking all routine preparations to hold the exams safely amid the pandemic when the Covid-19 vaccination drive is underway across the country.
“If the situation doesn’t appear preferable to hold the exams, we will again review the measures we’ve planned,” she said, adding that all schools and colleges would be opened in phases in September.
Deputy Minister Nowfel said that the ministry was asked by the government high-ups to hold the SSC and the HSC exams in-person this year. “But all other developments depend on the covid-19 situation.”
Bangladesh recorded 197 more deaths from Covid-19 and 8,465 new cases in the 24 hours till Friday, with a positivity rate of 20.83%. Health experts fear that the high trend will continue for a few more days.
Meanwhile, the government has administered over 15 million first doses of the Covid-19 vaccines and 5 million second doses across the country.
Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) Director General Prof Syed Md Golam Faruk said that if they failed to open schools this year, the students would be promoted to the next class through an assignment assessment system.
DSHE Director (College and Admin) Shahedul Khabir Chowdhury said: "The government plans to vaccinate 4.1 million SSC and HSC candidates before the examinations. The decision on which vaccine to administer will be decided in consultation with the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) and others concerned."
An assistant secretary of Primary and Mass Education (PME), Abu Usuf Bhuyia said that they had already completed vaccinating all the teachers. Now the staffers and other employees of the primary school would be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission (UGC) said they had instructed the universities about what to follow before and after the resumption of in-person academic activities.
“Universities can be opened after all teachers, students and staffers get their vaccine jabs,” said UGC Member Prof Dil Afroza Begum.
They, however, have yet to make any roadmap to reopen the universities.