A year sans in-person education

40m students hit hard by corona

Md Solamain Salman

17 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The academic life of over 40 million students and livelihood of thousands of teachers have badly been affected over the last one year as the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the country’s education sector into disarray.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has been ravaging the entire world since the beginning of 2020, forced the authorities to shut all educational institutions in Bangladesh on March 17 last year to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

After a year of shutdown, the government on February 27 announced that schools and colleges would reopen on March 30 while universities on May 24 as the situation was comparatively better

at that time.

But uncertainty looms large about the reopening of the institutions as the coronavirus situation has started to worsen again in the country with both cases and deaths from the virus on the rise since the early of this month.

Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni on March 12 said the government may review the decision to reopen educational institutions on March 30 if coronavirus infections continue to rise.

“We’re watching the situation every day. We put maximum priority to the health of teachers, students, employees and parents. We’ll review the decision as per the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Covid-19 if coronavirus cases continue to rise,” she said.

During the last one year, millions of students from primary to university levels have been affected badly as the traditional classroom learning came to a complete halt due to the pandemic.

Many teachers of non-government schools, colleges, madrasas and private universities have lost jobs or got partial

salaries while majority of the educational institutions have not got tuition fees regularly due to the closure.

The government has been compelled to take measures like promoting all students to next classes without their public or annual examinations.

Insiders said Bangladesh never faced such kind of problem. About 49 years back in 1971, students got automatic promotion to next classes when Bangladesh fought the bloody Liberation War against Pakistan.

This time, the entire world is fighting a common enemy which is so tiny that it cannot be seen with naked eyes. The pandemic has upended all aspects of public life, including the education sector.

The pandemic has led to the cancellation of major public examinations --Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC), Junior School Certificate (JSC), Primary Education Completion (PEC) and their equivalent exams last year. The examinees were evaluated alternatively.

The government has also been compelled to enrol students by lottery in schools for all classes for the current academic session while no “Textbook Festival” was held on January 1 this year due to the pandemic.

On-campus classes at the country’s public and private universities have been closed since mid-March last year, causing worries about session jam at the highest seats of education.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), on several occasions, asked universities to begin online classes, but many were not ready institutionally for the remote learning.

Both private and public universities, however, have taken some time to adopt the online classes amid fears that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be left behind due to the digital divide.

The UGC also provided an interest-free loan of Tk 8,000 to 41,501 students of 39 public universities each so that they can buy smartphones to attend online classes.

Many non-government schools, especially kindergartens, have been closed or sold as they failed to bear management costs amid the long closure while many of the teachers have switched jobs and engaged in manual jobs, including pulling auto-rickshaws and footpath trading, to eke out a living.

The pandemic has also become a catalyst for educational institutions across the world to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period.