Since March 17, 2020, all educational institutions in Bangladesh remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Students had spent almost a year and a half lazily, not being able to go to their favourite educational institutions. At this time, many students were worried thinking the destiny of their academic life. Although online classes and assignments were being conducted under the direction of the Ministry of Education during the closure of educational institutions, it is known through various media reports that many students remained out of the coverage of these activities. There is no denying that although Bangladesh has made great strides in providing digital services, there are still problems with internet speeds and uninterrupted power supply in remote areas. Many students do not have devices that are required to participate in online classes in rural areas.
It is needless to say that along with the government's efforts, the teaching communities also have a responsibility to make the online education program a success because there are many teachers at different stages of the education system who have not yet been able to familiarize themselves with online activities. The government took several attempts to open up educational institutions. However, the worsening Covid-19 situation after a hiatus compelled the government to step back. However, when the infection rate of the third wave of the Corona pandemic started to get slowed down, the Ministry of Education decided to reopen the educational institutions that deserve appreciation. The Ministry of Education has prepared some guidelines for the management of educational institutions and distributed them among all institutions. The decision to go to school one day seems to be the right one for the students other than the fifth grade, secondary and higher secondary level who have been instructed to attend school every day. Even if the students go to school one day, they will be able to overcome their mental distress and return to normal life.
However, we must always keep in mind the number of challenges in teaching and conducting examinations in educational institutions. Despite challenges, the most promising news is that since the reopening of these institutions, there has been a tendency among the teachers-officers-employees to abide by the guidelines issued by the ministry. Most of our educational institutions do not have the capacity to comply with the safety rules in the classrooms inside institutions even though the health rules are followed on the way to enter the educational institutions because we know that many more students are taught in small classrooms in most of the institutions.
It has to be admitted that keeping this in mind, the authority has instructed the schools to conduct the teaching activities dividing students of each class into several groups, which is a well thought out decision. But the main challenge for us is that the tender-hearted students have become exhausted due to staying at home for the last one and a half years. As a result, they need to follow the rules of corona safety protocols when they are in the company of their classmates. We have noticed in many cases that students are hugging each other, taking off their masks while talking to others and even sharing their tiffin. This is certainly a matter of extreme concern. But at the same time, we have to keep in mind that if the students do not maintain distance between themselves by following the safety rules, they may get infected with corona, and the rate of infection in the family and country may increase again. As a result, the authorities must ensure that the students comply with the Corona Safety Rules inside educational institutions.
Like the teachers, parents also have an important role in preparing students to comply with corona safety rules. If parents nurture their children at home to understand that they need to maintain a certain distance from their classmates and teachers, wear face masks and keep their hands clean, then the rate of Covid-19 infection will remain under control; otherwise, the situation in educational institutions may take a turn for the worse in a short period.
Just as it is a challenge for educational institutions to ensure that students abide by the Covid-19 Safety Rules, it is also a challenge to ensure that parents abide by the safety rules outside of educational institutions. Through various media, we have already noticed that parents are huddled outside the school gate, which is a matter of great concern. There is no denying that parents bring their children to educational institutions from far away places and return home with their children after school, and thus it is difficult for them to come back to school once they come home dropping their children in the school.
But we must also remember that if we, as parents, cannot protect ourselves, it will not be possible to protect our children. Many parents were seen condemning the school authority in front of the media, saying that the authorities had not made any arrangements to sit. However, there is no point in blaming the school authorities here. Because there are many schools in Bangladesh - especially those are located in cities - that are built in a small space, and they do not have enough space where the authorities can arrange for parents to sit. The situation in Dhaka is grimmer because schools have been set up in different buildings there. Therefore, if a few guardians carry infections, others will be infected very quickly, and the situation will take on a more complex shape.
In the education system of a country like Bangladesh, it would never be appropriate to expect the facilities of a developed country. Again, it would not be right to destroy the students' academic life by closing down the educational institutions year after year. As a result, since the corona situation is somewhat under control, if we all live a controlled life, it will be possible to save the education sector from the terrible grip of corona by protecting students from Covid-19 infection. Finally, I would like to say that life has been breathed into educational institutions with the opening of these institutions. However, there are some challenges that we have to overcome collectively to move our students' education forward. We do not have any alternative to adapting to the new normal way of life.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi