Tuesday, 17 May, 2022

Overcoming Impact of Third Wave of Covid-19 on Education

Pranab Kumar Panday

Overcoming Impact of Third Wave of Covid-19 on Education
Pranab Kumar Panday

Although the health sector has suffered the most due to the catastrophic effect of Covid-19 pandemic, the education sector has also suffered a lot. In the last two years, students from almost all countries of the world have been affected negatively by the effects of the pandemic. Though the developed world has managed to make up for the loss by turning to online education system, Bangladesh could not make much progress in it. The pandemic has mostly affected the primary, secondary and higher secondary level students in Bangladesh. There is a growing concern among primary school students, especially the girls, about dropping out of school. Even boys have dropped out of school and engaged in various activities in many cases. However, the findings of various studies have not indicated that the dropout rate has reached an alarming rate yet.

In the last two years, the government, particularly the Ministry of Education, has been trying to take students' academic lives forward, adapting to this situation. However, despite various efforts, the students have suffered a lot. Once the severity of the second wave of the pandemic started to be controlled in August-September of 2021, all the educational institutions were opened. Besides, the final examinations of SSC and HSC students have also been completed. Judging from this, it can be said that the students of SSC and HSC levels are relatively in a safe position now. While the educational activities in other levels have started in full swing, the third wave of Covid-19 has also begun spreading in Bangladesh.

When the world's developed countries are passing through a difficult time due to the spread of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus, first identified in South Africa around the end of November 2021, Bangladesh was doing well until late December. But when the third wave hit India, the number of patients in Bangladesh also started increasing in the last two weeks. At present, the number of patients per day exceeds 5000, and the daily infection rate is around 18 per cent. The Ministry of Education has decided to deal with the situation by keeping the educational institutions open. After holding a meeting with the Covid-19 National Technical Committee, the decision was taken. Besides, it was decided to expedite the immunisation program for students aged 12 to 17 years, which is a logical decision. However, we should keep in mind that children were a large part of the total number of patients in the United States recently. Although only a few Omicron cases have been detected in Bangladesh so far, more genome sequencing could increase the number. Recent studies have shown that those exposed to Omicron have a lower risk of death than the Delta variant. However, if Bangladesh is hit hard by the Delta like India, the situation could become similar to that of mid 2021.

As a result, there is a kind of vacillation between students and parents. The parents are passing time in anxiety, because, if children are exposed to health risks, they may get infected with Corona, and infect others in the family. Moreover, we need to keep in mind that it is difficult for children to follow safety rules in the same way that adults do. Furthermore, it isn't easy to comply fully with the Corona safety measures recommended by the World Health Organisation in the school environment in Bangladesh. As a result, it is important for the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders involved in the decision-making to consider choosing a balance between the educational and health aspects of the students.

There is a kind of concern among the students at the university level, like the primary and secondary students. We know that many students usually stay in the university halls or the various messes around the university. While masks may be made compulsory in classrooms, ensuring that students abide by the health rules in their residences is not possible. As a result, if a student is infected with Covid-19, it will spread to all the surrounding areas, and the infection is likely to spread through them to their classmates. We have already noticed that Jahangirnagar University and BUET have decided to close offline classes. Other universities have started thinking about this. Therefore, since the transmission of the third wave of Coronavirus has not yet reached a large scale, it is time to control it. If we experiment with this infection, we can easily say that we will have to experience the same catastrophe triggered by the second wave last year.

I strongly believe that realising this, the Honourable Prime Minister has instructed to expand the coverage of online education activities up to the primary level. Given the nature of the Covid-19 movement over the past two years and the nature of other similar viruses, we cannot say that we will be Covid-free this year. So far, no one can say when we will overcome this pandemic. Therefore, it is generally assumed that the virus may take another year or two to become weak. If we want to ensure that this uncertainty does not hamper the student's academic life, a blend of offline and online classes must be extended to remote areas. It is difficult for students from low-income rural families to afford the devices and internet to participate in online learning activities. Moreover, many primary and secondary level teachers have not yet gained enough exposure to conduct online classes. It is encouraging that the government has implemented various policies to bring all these students into the online education system in the last two years. Teachers have been trained, and students have been given loans to purchase devices. Also the cost of the internet for students has been reduced. Overall, the implementation of such decisions may have eliminated much of the problem. But many students are still out of the online learning activities. Therefore, it is important to make specific decisions on protecting the academic life of underprivileged students by bringing them under the coverage of online education.

We applaud the overall efforts of the government to save the academic life of students. Moreover, if two doses of the vaccine are given to students between the ages of 12 and 17, the risk of infection would be far reduced. Therefore, in addition to speeding up the vaccination program, it is necessary to keep the educational institutions open and take the students' academic activities forward, protecting their health from risks. We need to keep in mind that it is just as important to ensure students' health as to continue their education. As a result, I think that continued emphasis on online educational activities must be pursued seriously to overcome the loss of the pandemic.


The author is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.