Government says schools will be shut down only if IEDCR advises
Parents are living in fear of coronavirus infection in their children. However, the government has said it has no plans to shut down schools on the basis of panic and fears on the part of parents but will do so if the IEDCR recommends such a measure.
Dhaka Tribune talked to a number of parents and teachers about their fears centering around the coronavirus outbreak affecting children.
A number of parents have stopped sending their children to schools and those who have not are living in fear about their children getting infected.
Teachers in some schools in Dhaka said student attendance was very low. According to health experts, shutting down schools can be a part of COVID-19 outbreak preparedness. However, the government has said it will not shut down schools unless the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) recommends it.
Education Minister Dipu Moni told Dhaka Tribune that schools would be shut down immediately if IEDCR so advised the government, but since no such recommendation and advice from the institution had been received, the authorities had no plans to shut down schools.
“We have instructed schools not to hold assembly as too many children will come in close contact with each other in school assemblies. We sent out instructions for schools to help prevent any infection,” she said.
However, many parents consider a temporary suspension of classes in schools could be part of overall precautionary measures. Some of them have stopped sending their wards to schools.
Akter Jahan, mother of a 5-year-old, has stopped sending her son to school.
She told Dhaka Tribune that the government should at least close down the kindergartens because students of this section are too young to maintain their hygiene on their own.
“Most of the children are still suffering from seasonal flu. If there is a coronavirus outbreak in Bangladesh the chance of getting infected will increase manifold,” she said.
Dr Azharul Islam Khan, chief physician at the icddr,b, told Dhaka Tribune that he saw no irrationality in not sending kids to school. He said schools could be shut down as part of the preparedness against coronavirus in this country.
“You do not really need to be a health expert to understand the gravity of the situation. WHO (World Health Organization) has declared it a pandemic. So far, 3 cases have been confirmed in the country but we cannot really say there won’t be more cases in future,” he said, adding that it would be better shutting down schools for a while.
Nafiza Islam Urmila, mother of an 11-year-old, thinks it is better to shut down schools as children are not really aware of respiratory hygiene.
“They can shut down schools now and balance out the days with summer vacations. I am sending my son to school because I do not want him to fall behind at school,” she said.
Tasmia Hasin is sending her 3rd grader to school although she said she was really scared for her health. “I’m scared but can’t really stop sending her to school for my fear because it eventually will hamper my daughter’s mental state,” she said.
Requesting anonymity, a mother of two children told Dhaka Tribune that this was a pandemic and she worried more because she believed the country did not properly screen travelers.
“I am not worried about class performance. I do not give preference to my kids’ performance over their lives,” she said.
Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury told Dhaka Tribune: “Panic is not the factor that determines public policy. The government runs on specific recommendations by experts and in this case IEDCR,” he said, adding the institute had given no instruction to shut down schools up until now.
“There is no gain for us in not shutting down the schools if it is a necessity. But we will act upon the experts’ recommendation,” he said.
He said he thought the panic was mostly Dhaka based and it was not a countrywide assessment.
Teachers too have concerns about children who are missing out schools. They have to take classes because there is no order to shut down schools.
Zahidur Rahman, associate professor of Rajuk Uttara Model College, told this correspondent that parents were panicking more because their institution was close to the airport and Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital.
“Our institution usually sees high attendance but now the number has dropped as compared to that. My personal opinion is that the government can consider shutting down the schools temporarily as we do not want our students to miss classes,” he said.
Rokeya Sultana, a teacher at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, told this correspondent that only 22 students out of 84 students in her class showed up yesterday (Thursday).
“In another class, only 11 students showed up out of 84,” she said.
She said they could not cancel classes as there is no such instruction from the government, but they would take extra care for students who are not attending as per the authority’s instruction.
Mehnaz Mehedi Priyana, a teacher of Oxford International School, told this correspondent that parents were panicking but still sent their children to school because of exams.
“Now that the exams are over, only six to seven students are coming to class out of 30/31,” she said.
Ahmed Panto's nephew goes to Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka. He told Dhaka Tribune that the attendance in his school was low compared to the days before the news broke.