Experts recommend remedial program to help students readjust to school life
An estimated 7.86 million primary and secondary school students suffered learning losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic-enforced school closures over the past year, according to a recent survey.
The report defined learning loss as a loss of opportunities to learn, either because the students did not have access to distance learning tools or because they were forced to take up employment. Experts recommended extra classes for and attention to students in order to help them readjust to school life.
The findings of the survey were jointly presented by the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) at a webinar on Monday.
The survey was part of a larger, multi-phase study by PPRC and BIGD. The rapid telephone survey was conducted by speaking to 4,872 people in rural and urban slums twice, first in March 2021 and then in August the same year, to examine changes in the educational life of children.
According to the survey, 22% of primary school students and 30% of secondary school students suffered learning losses during the school closures. An alarming 34% of boys at the secondary level became involved in child labour during the closures.
More than 8% of school-going boys were engaged in income-generating activities at both the times they were surveyed.
“School opening alone, without an off-hours remedial program, cannot overcome the accumulated learning loss and danger of a generation dropping out of education,” said Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of PPRC.
Many children reported not studying at all, self-studying without supervision, studying irregularly via online classes, or studying with family members or private tutors. The researchers identified these children to be at risk of learning losses.
From March to August 2021, there was a worrying upward trend in learning loss risk among both primary and secondary schoolchildren across income groups and both in rural areas and urban slums. The trend is most pronounced among secondary male students: 26% were at risk of learning losses in March. The figure jumped to 34% in August.
The survey found that 44% and 36% of rural and urban slum households, respectively, did not have access to any electronic devices for online learning. Only 18% of primary students and 38% of secondary students were learning through assignments in August.
Students and teachers were in minimal contact during the survey period, interacting mainly when students came to collect assignments.
The PPRC-BIGD survey indicated that socioeconomic disparities played a role in the learning loss crisis. The survey found a direct relationship between a child’s learning loss risk and his/her mother’s education level. As many as 43% of mothers never went to school, 15% had SSC equivalent education and 12% were HSC equivalent.
The pandemic and subsequent school closures have also adversely affected the mental health of children and adolescents.
In August 2021, over 15% of households reported that school and college-going students had been suffering from mental health stress since the beginning of the pandemic. Parents reported that their children were more irritable and angrier, as well as displaying more violent behavior during the school closure period (36% in March compared to 42% in August).
Dr Imran Matin stressed the importance of funding innovative and scalable solutions to address the twin risks of learning loss and mental health to tackle the educational emergency.
“The long-term cost of not treating this as an emergency can be extremely high, pushing years of progress and ambition off track,” he said.