Schools, colleges and madrasas across the country resounded with the footsteps and chirping of students on Sunday as they reopened after a closure for nearly one and a half years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the return of thousands of students, the campuses wore a festive look with all covering faces with masks and maintaining social distancing.
For the first time, students returning to schools got chocolates and flowers. But it was also the first time that every student got a temperature check before they are allowed inside.
To children, school means playing, chatting with friends, causing a ruckus and sharing their snacks -- all form collective memories.
But now, as they returned to classrooms after 543 days of staying at home, their experience is likely to be completely different from normal school life.
Apart from cleaning schools and their premises, the authorities of educational institutions decorated the main gates with balloons, coloured papers and ribbons.
While visiting a number of schools in Dhaka, it was seen that the students were entering their educational institutions standing in queues in the morning and washing their hands on the school premises with soap or sanitising those.
To maintain social-distancing rules, authorities in some schools have allocated one room for a limited number of students and one bench for one student.
The authorities of different schools and colleges in the capital were seen following health guidelines by ensuring the use of masks, arranging seats maintaining social distancing and checking the temperature of students.
But the social distancing was largely violated when the classes ended and guardians gathered outside the institutions to fetch their children home.
As per the government decision, schools and colleges will hold in-person classes every day of the week for the candidates of Secondary School Certificate (SSC), Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) and equivalent examinations for 2021 and 2022 and for the Class-V students.
The classes from Class-I to Class-IX students will be held a day each week while the number of in-person classes will be increased if the coronavirus situation improves.
No assembly will take place in any educational institution but some physical activities will be done considering the mental and physical health of the students.
However, the educational institutions in flood-hit areas of the country did not reopen on the day.
On the first day of reopening, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni visited Azimpur Government Girls High School and College in Dhaka.
After the visit, she suspended its principal and the teachers of the monitoring team for unhealthy classrooms.
She told reporters that the ministry will conduct surprise visits to educational institutions and strict action will be taken in case of non-compliance of the health rules.
“Today’s visit to this school was scheduled. But, we’ll make surprise visits regularly. No one – be it teacher or education department official -- will be spared when it comes to ensuring health and hygiene rules,” the minister said.
She said dengue was also a matter of concern amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Everyone seems excited to be back to classes… dengue spreads in the daytime. As students spend that time in schools, the parents should be conscious. The students should wear full-sleeve clothes and socks," Dipu Moni said.
She urged the parents and guardians to be more aware and help with social surveillance without disrupting the academic activities or making gathering in front of the schools.
“We have to live with coronavirus for a long time. We think it’s appropriate to reopen schools now. If we see a chance of any rise in infections, we’ll get back to the way it was before,” the minister added.
Asked about the reopening of universities, she said, “The decision will be taken by the academic councils and syndicates of the universities. I had a meeting with the vice chancellors last month and I'll meet them again this week. I would like to know if the universities can be reopened before mid-October, but that is up to them.”
Later, Dipu Moni visited Lake Circus Girls High School in Kalabagan.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Primary and Mass Education Zakir Hossain visited Motijheel Ideal Government Primary School and Ideal Model Govt Primary School in Segunbagicha.
After the visit, he said, “We’ve been able to reopen schools after one and a half years. It’s good news for the nation. All, including students and parents, are happy following the reopening of schools.”
He directed the authorities concerned to run schools maintaining health guidelines.
During a visit to Mirpur Girls’ Ideal Laboratory Institute, it was found that its gate has been decorated with balloons. A board pasted next to the gate has a list of rules and restrictions that students have to follow.
Teachers and school employees lined up on either side of the gate. As guardians drop off their kids at the gate, temperature was being checked and then the children were offered a bowl of chocolates.
Principal of the school Jinnat Farhana said, “We feel like Eid celebrations today. The students are coming at school after 18 months; the students were excited while we were also excited on the day.”
All the preparations were taken keeping in mind that the day of return of the children to the school after long closure should be a happy one, she added.
Sheikh Aminur Rahman, senior teacher of Birshreshtha Munshi Abdur Rouf Public College, said the educational institution reopened following all the directives and guidelines of the government. “All kinds of health precautions have been taken.”
Arrangements have been made for the students to enter and exit the institution through two separate gates, he said, adding that the necessity of discipline has long been emphasised to students.
A coordination meeting is held several times a month, but it has intensified during the pandemic which will continue to run the academic activities smoothly, he added.
When asked about gathering of guardians in front of Udayan Higher Secondary School at Fuller Road, school’s Principal Jahura Begum said it was not possible for the school authorities to force guardians to follow the rules.
Educational institutions were closed across the country on March 17 last year to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The closure led to cancellation of classes and examinations, throwing the academic life of more than four crore students of around 1.5 lakh educational institutions in disarray.