As another year goes by, the country’s education system and mental health of students now brace for further damage
As a recent spike in Covid-19 infections forced the government to enforce a strict lockdown from Wednesday, it is now evident that the country’s educational institutes will take more time to reopen, adding to the woes of the already hard-hit sector and its students.
It has been more than a year, 13 months to be exact, that the country’s educational institutes have remained shut since the coronavirus pandemic began. Like the rest of the world, the authorities in Bangladesh were forced to repeatedly reschedule the date of a reopening of schools, colleges and universities as the pandemic continued to linger.
With the recent lockdown, students will have to wait for many more months to return to their campuses and resume their normal academic life.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS)-2019 report, there are a total of 171,779 educational institutes across the country with a little over 39.83 million students.
The pandemic has already claimed 9,800 lives and over 6,00,000 people have been infected. Apart from lives lost and impact on the economy and livelihood, education experts said the biggest harm caused by the pandemic to the education system of the country was at the primary to higher education level.
The one-year gap in institutional education has already left a negative impact on students — both in mental and physical health – that needs to be taken care of, experts say.
Now schools and colleges are scheduled to reopen on May 23 and universities will resume academic activities on May 24. The authorities need to act promptly, they have opined.
Learning process hampered largely
Since the start of the pandemic, the government introduced alternative learning programs such as online classes, follow-up by teachers and lesson telecasts on television and radio channels.
However, such measures have failed to become viable alternatives to physical classes due to accessibility problems.
The Education Watch Report 2020-21, published by Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), found that 58% of students surveyed were not technologically equipped with electronic devices or smart phones to access distance learning services.
Among those who did manage to participate in distance learning activities, 90% of them said that they could not remember what they had learned as teachers did not follow up with the lessons, according to a study by Save the Children.
On average, a student spent only two minutes in virtual classes every day during the pandemic, which was six hours compared to physical classes. At the same time, the duration of self-study of each student also declined to 115 minutes from 185 minutes, according to a Brac study done in May last year.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) Director General Syed Md Golam Faruk said an assessment report was being readied by the Bangladesh Education Development Unit (BEDU) which would unveil the actual loss in learning caused during the pandemic.
According to BEDU, over 2,000 secondary schools across the country have been selected to collect the assessment report that will be to be submitted by April.
Damage needs to be repaired
A World Vision study suggests that 44% of junior-level students were afraid that they might not be able to return to classes once school activities resumed.
Among these students, underage girls may become victims of child marriage largely, says another study conducted by Stromme Foundation Bangladesh.
Compared to 2019, the child marriage rate rose by 44% in 2020, thanks to no school and a drop in household income, suggests a Manusher Jonno Foundation study.
Apart from school dropouts and child marriages, children have been mostly suffering from mental health issues, as never in their lives they were confined inside their residences for such a long time.
They are also deprived of being able to play with friends and classmates.
A 2021 study of World Vision suggested that 55% of children were unhappy about their life at home and 40% children suffered from malnutrition during this time as their parents’ income had dropped.
The DSHE DG said the authorities would focus on mental support for students so that they could easily adjust to normal classroom activities. A child psychologist would be appointed in each upazila for the purpose.
What are the government's recovery plans?
National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) Chairman Prof Narayan Chandra Saha said the board had already formulated a shortened syllabus that could be completed within 60 and 80 working days for the SSC and HSC candidates, respectively, in 2021.
For the next academic year, it is designed for 150 and 180 working days respectively.
NTCB has provided another plan to the DSHE on providing education on 11 selected topics from all subjects to first graders to recover some of the academic losses of 2020.
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Directorate of Primary Education Director General Alamgir Muhammad Mansurul Alam said: "The Primary and Mass Education ministry has reviewed an action plan prepared by the National Academy for Primary Education (NAPE) to mitigate the academic loss in 2020 and also managing the lessons of the current year."
He said that NAPE’s 156-day action plan is scheduled to resume academic activities from April 1.
Directorate of Madrassa Education DG KM Ruhul Amin said the NCTB plan would be followed.
What do experts say?
Rasheda K Chowdhury, an academic, suggested that the recovery plan for education should be for a span of two years.
"The budget of 2020-21 fiscal year for education was not fully utilized due to Covid situation. This fund should be utilized properly," she suggested.
Noted educationist Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury emphasized increasing budget allocation for education and health as Covid-19 had pointed out the limitations of these two sectors.
He also suggested that the government recruit more qualified teachers and provide them with training to cope with the present situation as students needed to be attended to more intensively.
"Since a year has been lost, the rate of drop-outs, child-labour and child-marriages will accelerate. So the government should demonstrate frugality in other sectors and emphasize health and education," he added.