At least 22 per cent of primary and 30 per cent of secondary level students are currently at the risk of learning loss due to prolonged school closure during the Coronavirus pandemic.
A recent survey conducted in rural areas and urban slums also showed that the learning crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic—a consequence of a long, nationwide school closure--- has worsened considerably in the past six months across the country.
PPRC Executive Chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman and BIGD executive director Dr Imran Matin presented these findings at a webinar on Monday.
Zillur Rahman stressed that the human capital crisis has been as great a concern as the health and economic crisis of Covid-19. School opening alone without an off-hours remedial programme cannot overcome the accumulated learning loss and danger of a drop-out generation, he added.
Imran Matin observed that the importance of funding innovative and scalable solutions to address the twin risks of learning loss and mental health to tackle the educational emergency.
“The long-term cost of not treating this as an emergency can be extremely high, off-tracking years of progress and ambition, he added
The research developed an educational module as part of the larger survey first in March 2021 and later in August—to examine the changes in the educational life of students. The timing of the study provides a good baseline for school reopening realities.
The researchers identified these children to be at risk of learning loss.
The survey also found that from March to August 2021, there was a worrying upward trend in learning loss risk among both primary and secondary school children across income groups and both in rural areas and urban slums.
The trend is most pronounced among secondary male students; 26 per cent were at risk of learning loss in March, which jumped to 34 per cent in August.
Main modes of distance learning—pre-recorded classes on TV and online and real-time online classes—were used by a very small fraction of students in both periods.
Apart from this, 56 per cent of primary and 65 per cent of secondary students received private tutoring or coaching in March, the rate declined to 48 per cent and 43 per cent in August. Family support in studying also decreased significantly since March, particularly for secondary students, most likely due to the resumption of activities and livelihoods pressures.
However, the hybrid method of assignments (a mix of interactive and non-interactive) became the most widely adopted distance-learning tool in August.
Researchers also found that only 18 per cent of the primary students and 38 per cent of the secondary students were learning through assignments in August.
Students and teachers were in minimal contact during the survey period, interacting mainly when students came to collect assignments.
The PPRC-BIGD survey indicates that socioeconomic disparities play a role in the learning loss crisis.
First, the survey finds a direct relationship between a child's learning loss risk and their mother's education level. For example, children whose mothers never went to school were at the highest risk.
Second, students with access to coaching or private tutoring prior to the pandemic make up an overwhelming majority of those who can still afford and access it.
Third, 44 per cent and 36 per cent of rural and urban slum households respectively did not have access to any electronic devices for online learning. Fourth, over eight per cent of school-going boys were engaged in income-generating activities in both periods.
The survey findings also showed that the pandemic has exacerbated educational inequality, which was already a major concern in the country.
The pandemic and subsequent school closures have also adversely affected the mental health of children and adolescents.
In August 2021, over 15 per cent of households reported that school and college-going students have been suffering from mental health stress since the beginning of the pandemic.
Parents reported that their children were more irritable and angrier and displayed more violent behaviour during the school closure period (36 per cent in March compared to 42 per cent in August).