Generally, the children belonging to the rural and economically stressed parents are admitted in government primary schools. They are a huge mass. Now in this very crisis period, can you imagine this mass of young learners is bound to keep themselves away from their regular learning activities? They are the worst victims of the present crisis. Just before the onset of the crisis, the guardians of those tender learners were busy with any kind of income-generating activities. I am sure many of them are out of a job now or struggling to find an alternative source of income. The rural stagnant economy has to encounter additional stress of back-home workers from the city. The alternative option for the guardians was just to take care of their children by themselves. Unfortunately, many of the guardians are not enough qualified to take care of their children’s curriculum activities. So what is the fate of these children? The extremely poor guardians might engage their children in some odd-jobs away from home. The fate of marriage in case of some minor girls is not unlikely.
The government was not ready to cope with the unprecedented situation at all. Despite the fact, the programme “Ghore Boshe Shikhi” same as the distance curriculum activities have been initiated through the Sangsad-Television. The Primary teachers have initiated some district bound online School through Facebook live programme. These initiatives are praiseworthy but effective only for them who have access to television or smartphone. However, the quality and content of the virtual teaching method depend on the teachers themselves. And the opportunity to interact with students is limited too. So, there might be a question regarding the efficacy of this virtual teaching method.The programme devoted to primary education taken by the government was as per the Vision 2021, 7th five-year plan and election manifesto quite enough to achieve the SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) target. All the activities were in the exact directions just prior to the onset of the epidemic. The same way, the other sectors like, health, agriculture, commerce transaction, industry, tourism etc. are under stress too. And the reality is to tolerate the existence of COVID-19 among us for an indefinite period.
So, being worried about the epidemic is not the solution at all. Rather we have to know how to over-power the pestilence through co-existence. The good thing is---most of the teachers and staff members under the Department of Primary Education are aware of the primary healthcare. Thanks to the Department of Health for extending help in this aspect. Upazila Health Complex is always submissive at your service. So, keeping protected in accordance with the health department, we have to take care of the subjects like children existing condition like education, mental and physical health care etc. The guardians’ economic situation, their physical and mental health should not be overlooked also.
We have to realise that a little compassion would do a huge help for the survival of a petty-learner and his/her family under stress. This activity should be in operation all the catchment area of the primary schools all over Bangladesh. It needs nothing but the unity and devotion towards the betterment of the under-aged citizens of the country. More so, ignoring our designation at the office, it is our responsibility to stay beside the students as one of his favourite teachers to pacify his mental agony. Yes! That should be done through Physical visit because most guardians have no smartphone, no TV. Even many of them have not enough physical facilities. Having a reading table or a pair chair is a luxury to them. Even they have to sleep crowding all in a limited space.
The government is not yet ready to provide a smartphone to every family. And the government should not. As the trend of the epidemic is still uncertain, it would not be wise to open the schools. The petty-students could not maintain the social distance among themselves or even their personal health security.
So until everything gets normal, it is a big question how to assist the students and their guardians. More we delay to get the answer more we make us susceptible to the reality of the pandemic. We know, until the end of the twentieth century, agriculture, mineral resources, industry, commerce etc. were considered as the resource of development. But at the onset of the twenty-first century those ideas were replaced by a single terminology, i.e. knowledge. It is a human being who could nurture knowledge to search for the truth. So in another sense, knowledge and human being are complementary to each other. Once the human being had to depend on the compassion of nature. The consciousness of human being was trapped in the illusion of unscientific superstition and mental narrowness. But some of the encyclopaedic personalities over the ages have the ability to come out of their periphery. Thus the human being set out his journey through initiatives agriculture some 10,000 years back. Just a couple of centuries ago the human being came to know how to overpower nature through the industrial revolution. There were a lot of short-comings enough to get Mother Nature to take the opposite stance of the human being. That is why we need a revolution of consciousness right now to bear with nature. That cannot be achieved within a year or two. It needs long term planning. That we could do through the hardship of corona and the consciousness we have from the very beginning of our life. Therefore, primary level is the best time to initiate the mantra of hardship and consciousness for the betterment of the days ahead. So, think how to keep the spirit up of the flow to educate our under-aged citizens initiated some years back.
We have 11 types of primary education in Bangladesh namely-1) Government primary school, 2) Non-regd. primary school 3) Experimental school, 4) Community primary school, 5) ROSK-centre Ananda school 6) Children welfare primary school 7) Ebtedaii madrasha 8) High attached primary school 9) High madrasha attached primary school 10) Kindergarten school 11) NGO school. The difference between the government and a Kindergarten is quite distinct. Kindergarten is apparently better run by private management. They are better in a sense that they maintain time, emphasise reading and writing, offer courses on general knowledge, grammar, etc. Their tuition fee varies from one school to the other and beyond the reach of average rural people in Bangladesh. It is interesting to note that their teachers are not always experienced as they are hired with a meagre amount of money.Anyway, the students from economically solvent families are the beneficiaries of this kind of school. But the rest from the economically poor background are getting behind day by day. So to reduce the knowledge gap between these two groups efforts should be initiated from home. Meaning to say, every home should be converted as an alternative to school. Yes! That sense was transformed in the form of slogan like “a family having an educated mother is nothing but a kind of school” in 2015 during the celebration of primary education.
May I request you to consider the word “educated” not merely for a mother able to read and write! A mother may not directly read or write but her enthusiasm to acquire knowledge is more than enough to achieve the goal. Accordingly, there should be an isolated space for practising knowledge (reading room) equipped with some minimum facilities. A space reserved for the mom is a nice arrangement so that she could join her kids for a wile just as a source of inspiration. The class teachers could ensure the matter in his catchment area under a primary school.
The Family Health Assistant has to serve from door to door. In the same way, the teachers have to teach their students from door to door so long the crisis persists. So they have to prepare a schedule for the catchment area under their concern. The Head teacher is supposed to be at the background of the programme. The guardians should be informed about the visiting schedules ahead of time. Students, teachers and guardians as well must have to follow the health-obligations due to corona crisis. That is they have to maintain social distance, have gloves and masks and sanitize their hands frequently.
Now as a Upazila Education Officer, I would like share some of plans with you. I had a meeting with the mother, guardians, teachers and students on 21 July 2020 at Barakandi Government Primary School, KamarKhand, Sirajganj. It was a pre-planned meeting maintaining social distancing and the other measures related to corona issues. It was a meeting after a lock down. So people’s response was quite spontaneous. The necessity of visiting their home by the teachers was explained to them. Still it’s a proposal. The mothers expressed their wholehearted satisfaction with the proposal. The head teacher of that school expressed his instant reaction that he would initiate the programme as soon as possible in the catchment areas of his school. The activities will be extended all over the upazila by and by. Since smartphones and laptops are not yet available to everybody at the grassroots level, this proposal must be a good one.
This could be the best way out of the several teaching methods to teach the under-aged students and designated as a deviceless-technology. The proposal was highly appreciated at the Upazila integrated meeting on, 23 July. But in some cases the dependence of technology is not ignored. We are getting information what to do right now and at the same time exchanging of information among the higher and sub-ordinate officers/staffs is in progress through the frequent virtual meeting using zoom app. It would be far better if the head teachers of every primary student could be connected through digitally. During the meeting at the school premises (above mentioned), one of the teachers from Bardhul Government primary school Mr Shah Jama was with me. We together had a thought of conducting class at the school. Every class room measuring 20 X 18 is good to accommodate 20 pairs of bench. Maintaining social distancing (one student per bench) 20 students could be accommodated in a class. They must be dressed with mask. There should be an arrangement of wash block with hand washing soap. The class will in shifts. The number of shifts will be decided as per number of students and teachers. However, this proposal was not much appreciated as the students might not help themselves to maintain the social distancing and the other relevant activities imposed by the WHO.
It is worth mentioning that the back-home students from the university or college have some social responsibility to teach his/her neighbouring students of the primary level. Even the school managing committee, teacher-guardian committee, mother’s club, and the local resident must not avoid their responsibility to teach their students. In fact, all the citizens could extend their help for the betterment of the students. Last but not the least --- I have a message to my colleagues at the grassroots level: We having no problems of getting our salary. In contrast most of the guardians have no way to earn money. The irony is the salary we are getting even within the corona crisis is from their accumulated contribution to the government in the form of tax, VAT, etc. Rabindranath says-
I received a lot from you and devoured a lot
But what did I returned to you, I know not.
My life is spent in useless pursuits
I spent my days in closed cell in midst
O provider of energy, you gave vitality in vain to me.
(Translated by Deepankar Choudhury)
So, come on colleagues, let us devote ourselves to serve the motherland with the sources what we have. Thus try to compensate for the loss that is in progress due to corona crisis.
The writer is an Upazila Education Officer, Kamarkhanda, Sirajganj