Industry Desk: Niloy, a fifth-grader in a Mohammadpur government primary school in Dhaka, has been confined to a small two-room tin-shed house with his parents and elder brother Moshahid – a ninth grader – for over a month.
Both the brothers solely depend on schools for their studies but that facility too has been disrupted as schools have remained closed due to the nationwide public holidays following the Covid-19 outbreak. In the next one month too, schools will remain closed for the holy month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, they follow some recorded classes broadcast on the state-run television channel but those are not enough for them.
Niloy used to go with his mother Banu Begum, a housemaid, to her workplace in the area and learn Maths and English from Faiaz Abrar, an eighth-grader son of the employer. But that facility also remains stopped due to the shutdown.
However, Abrar’s learning is ongoing because he is connected online with both his school teachers and his private tutor.
But Niloy’s father, a CNG auto-rickshaw driver, has no capacity to enable Niloy to participate in online classes as he has been jobless while Niloy’s mother cannot go to the household where she is employed.
The story of Niloy and Abrar is symbolic of the already existing inequality in their education in proportion to their fathers’ incomes.
Around three crore students at both primary and secondary levels are now out of school due to the ongoing public holidays. Most of them belong to either middle- or low-income groups, and many are not able to participate in televised classes.
As a result, their education is likely to face further disruption if the holidays continue beyond May 5.
The quality of education in Bangladesh has been in question for long. And Covid-19 is revealing the disparity between the rich and the poor in the present education system, which is widening further by the school closure.
Meanwhile, the government is yet to make plans for the education sector to recover from the Covid-19 rampage.
As a result, poorer students will face increased obstacles to achieving good grades, problems in reaching online resources and psychological challenges, say experts.
Many students may be forced to discontinue their studies as their parents, who have been hit hard by the pandemic, may not be able to send their children to school owing to their economic hardship, experts fear.
This may put the country’s long-fought success in school enrolment at risk, they opine.
The government has been emphasising cent percent enrolment at the primary level since 1999, with stipends and free books given to all students. The country has achieved 98 percent enrolment in primary education. A higher enrolment rate of girls in both primary and secondary levels has been lauded by all as this helps fight child marriage.
Secondary school students have been receiving stipends since 2001 and new books since 2010. Yet the enrolment rate is low (53 percent) as many students drop out at the primary level.
“It is now difficult to predict what the actual impact of the pandemic on education will be,” according to Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education.
“But we assume that the government’s success in enrolling the children will be at risk.”
Educationist Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam said the country sees a positive trend among parents from both lower to higher classes who send their children to schools. “But the coronavirus may upset the trend.”
He expressed concern that child labour might increase as lower- and lower-middle income people will be the most vulnerable economically after the pandemic. They will be compelled to send their children to work.
Md Fasiullah, director general of the primary education directorate, echoed Manzoorul Islam’s comments.
“We fear that enrolments in schools from the next academic year may decline. Many students may drop out at the primary level.”
“Many guardians may terminate their children’s studies and force them to work for their families. The tendency of not sending children to schools may increase, which will be dangerous for our education sector,” he also said.
He further said the authorities had not prepared any plan yet to recover from the adverse impact of the coronavirus on education.
“We will try our level best to continue the existing enrolment and check the dropout rate. We do not know what actually will happen,” he added.
Professor Dr Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, also fears a big school dropout.”We are observing the situation and will take initiatives on how to overcome the difficulties and prevent dropouts,” he said.
To overcome the pandemic impact, educationalist Prof Manzoorul Islam suggested increasing the amount of stipends for needy students so that their families could benefit from them.
“Otherwise, it will be tough to retain students in schools,” he said, adding that the budgetary allocation for the education sector must be increased to fight the Covid-19 fallout.
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