SCHOOLS and colleges having been closed for more than a year to in-person learning, about six million primary and secondary students standing a risk of learning loss because of severe disruption in their academic life during the ongoing Covid outbreak is gravely worrying. Soon after Covid cases were detected in Bangladesh on March 8, 2020, educational institutions were closed on March 17, 2020. Online classes, officially rolled out in late March for secondary students and in early April for primary students, were intended to be the new normal in education, public or private. But the new normal miserably failed to take effect in the absence of adequate infrastructure — a combination of access to television or radio, uninterrupted internet connectivity, the availability of devices to connect online and training for teachers in how to lecture online that is not as interactive as in classroom teaching. A nationwide survey that the Power and Participation Research Centre, the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development and BRAC University conducted on 4,940 households finds that 19 per cent of the primary and 25 per cent of the secondary students surveyed have encountered learning losses. It also finds that 15.7 per cent of students aged 10–20 years have faced psychological trauma in urban slums against 8.4 per cent in rural areas.
Further worrying are other findings that only 2 per cent of the students have attended classes aired on state-owned television channel Sangsad TV and 51 per cent of primary and 61 per cent of secondary students have had a resort to private tuition. Although 95 per cent of the guardians surveyed are eager to send their children back to school once they reopen, the survey funds that 8 per cent of the boys and 3 per cent of the girls have already become engaged in some income-generating activities, setting aside their studies, purportedly to supplement the income of the families where bread earners have lost their job or have had their income significantly reduced because of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid outbreak. Such a situation has added to the risk of learning loss, the loss of motivation and dropout. Although global health agencies have not yet clearly mandated that schools should reopen, some of them have offered steps for reopening schools and risk-based approaches to reopening schools amidst the Covid outbreak. If the current surge in Covid cases, said to be the second wave, subsides, the government can consider reopening schools and colleges, which is also pressing in view of the holding of the Secondary School Certificate and Higher Secondary Certificate examinations and their equivalents that have already been delayed, by adhering to universal masking for all students, teachers and staff and other layered mitigation strategies such as testing, cleaning and contract tracing.
While the government must, therefore, try, even if in a phased approach, to reopen educational institutions, with adherence to standard risk mitigation practices, once the current surge in Covid cases subsides, the government must also extend safety net programmes to redress the out-of-pocket education cost burden and to stop students from dropping out of national education in course.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial