Like the virus, the impact of the pandemic on education is invisible but deadly; the side effects are long lasting but the extent is still unknown.
With all education institutions closed for more than a year with a few exceptions of online classes, the dire impact is inevitable on many counts. In this write-up I focus on the most obvious learning loss and a few less apparent likely impacts.
I will first describe the current situation and then extrapolate it to build a few hypotheses on the possible impacts of the pandemic on education.
Learning loss will exacerbate
Let's first take a grip on this issue conceptually. In economics' nomenclature, the inputs of a "learning production function" can be divided into two broad categories – school inputs such as student-teacher interaction hours, peer learning, infrastructure, etc and individual and household inputs such as study time at home, parental guidance, etc.
Since the schools are mostly closed, the first input is absent. Importantly, the efficacy of the second inputs such as study time depends on the first one. With no classroom teaching or homework, students must be in limbo regarding what to study. This effect must be worse for households with parents of low education, particularly in rural areas. This suggests that hardly any learning has occurred for most of the students in the country.
In order to highlight the current learning conditions at the primary level in the pre-pandemic time, let's look at the results of the National Student Assessment (NSA) conducted by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education. The sample survey includes students from class 3 and class 5 across 64 upazilas from seven administrative divisions of the country.
The assessment shows no sign of improvement in either grade in both subjects in recent years. In fact, the results worsened for grade 5. In mathematics and in grade 3, the proportion of students who achieved the grade-wise competency declined from 58% in 2013 to 41% in 2017. By the end of the primary education cycle, only one-quarter of the students mastered competency in Bangla in 2011 and this share dropped to only 12% in 2017. The situation in mathematics is also worse for grade 5 – the share of competent students dropped from 33% in 2011 to 17% in 2017.
If this is the current situation, one can imagine the extent the pandemic will take a toll on the learning outcomes of the students.
Dropout rate will increase
Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in primary enrolment, particularly for girls, and reducing dropout rates. Dropout has been the highest at grade 4 in recent years. That is, students who anticipate that they may not continue to post-primary level, they drop out in advance in grade 4.
The pandemic is likely to increase the dropout rates for both boys and girls. Many young males of the households with economic hardship are now engaged in income earning activities in rural areas. Note that the rural economy has been largely unscathed by Covid and there are high local demands for wage labour, particularly in the planting and harvesting seasons, partly due to suspension of inter-districts transportations.
The dropout rates from primary to secondary are likely to rise more. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence and research findings show that early marriages and child marriages are on the rise in rural areas. A recently conducted survey by Professor Abu Shonchoy and Zaki Wahaj shows that a large number of parents are contemplating marrying their daughters off. This poses a serious threat to girls' education and its long-term impact, given its high market and non-market returns (e.g., better education and health for children).
Share of science students will shrink
Apathy towards science education has long been a major concern for the policymakers of the country. Though the share of science in SSC and HSC has slightly increased over time, only 27% of those who passed HSC exam in 2018 are from science. The humanities and commerce make up the rest 83%.
Since science education is hard and help from school teachers is little, it is expected that a mass migration may occur from science to humanities and commerce both at secondary and higher secondary levels. This has significant implications for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in Bangladesh.
Share of madrasa students may increase
Let's do a cohort analysis. Four percent of the students who enrolled in grade 1 in 2000 went to madrasa education. The same cohort, when they reached grade 5 in 2004, the share of madrasa students dropped to 3%. However, the relative size of madrasa students jumped to 10% when the same cohort moved to grade 6 in 2005. That is, there is a huge reallocation from general stream to madrasa stream in the transition from primary to post-primary level.
This trend may be on the rise due to the pandemic. Economic hardship of households may force parents to send their children to madrasa where education and food are largely free.
Kazi Iqbal is Senior Research Fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), email@example.com