Friday, 24 September, 2021

Students’ Agonising Wait Coming to an End

Masum Billah

Students’ Agonising Wait Coming to an End
Masum Billah

The Prime Minister had a meeting with secretaries of different ministries on August 18 where she directed to open the educational institutions as soon as a convenient atmosphere prevails. She also directed to bring the children below eighteen years of age under vaccination program. Before this direction, the Education Minister had said that the educational institutions would be opened soon and preparation was going on accordingly. However, reopening the educational institutions calls for preparation. Preparation needs to be taken on the basis of the location of schools, infrastructure, number of students and classroom. The current rate of infection is below 20 per cent, institutions are to be opened only when this rate comes down to five per cent or less as experts opine. This rate was 30 per cent several days back as well. It’s a matter of thought whether we need to keep educational institutions closed looking at this rate or think something more smartly. All sectors of society are seen operating normally except educational institutions that are deemed mysterious to us. The government has announced that the SSC examination will be held in November and HSC in December. If that is the plan, schools must be opened in September. But is it actually going to happen then?

Many students have dropped out from education because of poverty and closure of schools. Eight per cent boy students and three per cent girl students have got engaged in various professions to support their families as some surveys confirm. Similarly, the rate of child marriages has also increased. A great number of young students have forgotten reading and writing for keeping away from regular schooling. Already a good number of students have been promoted to the next higher classes with serious learning loss and with that loss they are passing days without advancing into new learning. This has thrown students into a very odd situation as they are growing up as weak human resources in the society. Their physical and mental growth is getting hampered. The students who have already passed from higher educational institutions cannot enter job markets; a big number cannot even complete their education life. Many are getting seriously frustrated and adopting the path of various kinds of crimes.

Since March 2020 educational institutions have been declared closed 23 times. Till September 11, the total number of closing days will stand at 544 and nobody knows how long it will continue. It seems that showing of ‘unusual situation only in educational institutions’ has become a strange trend for some reasons unknown to us. What’s the benefit of it? All social and state-run institutions, gatherings, markets, transports pose to be quite normal. In this perspective, what is the necessity of showing schools, colleges and universities abnormal institutions? Bangladesh stands at a significant position among the fourteen countries in the world that have kept educational institutions closed at a stretch. Other countries did not keep their educational institutions closed at a stretch for such a long period of time. The period from October 2020 to February 2021 witnessed less infection rate when we could have opened schools and colleges that we ignored.

A World Bank survey shows that 58 per cent children of five years old used to gain a minimum level of reading skills before Corona appeared, that has now increased to 76 per cent. They used to start going to school at the age of four. That is now going to happen at five or six years. That means these children are going to see two years loss of learning at the beginning of their academic life. Interestingly, we don’t find any report, survey, study or research from the state highlighting the education loss figures. On the other hand, any report or survey conducted individually or by any institutions is seen to be refuted by the government even though students have been away from the classes for seventeen months. Asian Development Bank has given a statistic on the loss of education that shows each student faces a loss of 180 dollars due to the closure of the education institution. The students of affluent families and urban areas have strived to keep in touch with education by utilising digital devices that cost much; however, students of poor families and slum areas have got further disconnected due to this, witnessing a bigger gap than they used to experience before Covid-19. This has happened similarly in both the public and private universities. Public universities could not introduce digital devices or distance mode of learning showing their unaffordability. Public university teachers have shown their digital illiteracy through this. On the other hand, private universities started keeping the academic activities alive using digital devices. The public universities could show a ‘digitally highly educated’ situation if they could start disseminating classes through digital devices, which the UGC obstructed and which we think was a big blunder.  As a result, they stopped it also in the private universities. It does not make any sense.

First, we must perceive and acknowledge the massive loss of learning. Then opinions can be invited from the people concerned. If we don’t agree with facts, how can we take decisions to minimise the loss? What about education research in our country? It is either being conducted individually or by an organization, and then the findings are being confined within particular journals without coming down to the people who need it. This is another problem with our research works, which in most of the cases fail to sensitise the policy makers. It’s true that the state has taken some measures to minimise the loss of education that include Sangshad TV classes, radio class and assignments. Students have been cheating to submit their assignments and the DSHE has taken an initiative to form committees of head teachers and principals to motivate students to develop their own assignments, whether they are copying and identify copying and keeping the records and entry. This seems to be a good step but difficult to implement. Again, Sangsad TV classes have created poor impressions. One reason for Bangladesh occupying 135th position among 137 countries in using internet facilities might be this cause as expressed by an international organisation. The Power and Participation Research Centre and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development conducted a survey that also shows the poor situation. They have found that in the primary level only 19 per cent children and in the secondary 25 per cent accrued benefit from state run steps and the rest fell in the category of learning loss.

Our university life ran in the midst of the Ershad regime when universities were closed from time to time either for nothing or for any negligible political reason. We used to arrange meetings, processions and discussions along with teachers but those could not reach the ears of the government. They used to give statements in such a way that universities of African countries and Myanmar have been closed for two years or more, so why not in Bangladesh. It does not matter to the people who run the state whether universities remain closed or open. However, one thing we cannot afford to believe is that when the flow of the rivers gets hampered, the water will not run its course, flooding the crop fields nearby. Of course, it does not seem to matter to the policymakers either.

However, after all these speculations, the happy development is that the prime minister has ordered for the reopening of all educational institutions as soon as possible. Lively atmosphere in educational institutions is now a matter of time only.


The writer works for BRAC Education Programme