The Covid-19 has affected the global educational systems leading to the shutting down of many educational institutions.
In Bangladesh, educational institutions have been closed since March 17.
Hence, and at least 35,78,384 pre-primaries, 3,82,54,584 primary and 34,16,679 junior secondary school students are currently out of school because of the novel coronavirus.
The nationwide closure of educational institutions has drastically affected all categories of students.
According to a Unicef monitoring report, 186 countries are currently implementing nationwide closures and eight are implementing local closures, impacting about 98.5 percent of the world's student population.
According to Bangladesh Development Research Center (BDRC), there are 51.3 million children (ages 0-14 years) living in Bangladesh, of whom 24.9 million are girls and 26.4 million are boys.
Fifteen million children live in city slums in Bangladesh, while on average 500,000 to 2 million children sleep on streets in the country.
Formal education most often takes place through schooling and there are three phases of child education in Bangladesh namely pre-primary, primary and junior school.
Students enrolled in pre-primary education
In Bangladesh, schooling starts before enrolment in primary education (Grade1 to Grade5) l as children usually start going to school by the age of 4 or 5.
According to a report published by Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) in 2018, a total of 35,78,384 children were enrolled in pre-primary education from 25 types of institutions.
Students enrolled in primary education
In Bangladesh, generally, primary education starts by the age six although some children get enrolled earlier. As per BANBEIS 2018, 3,82,54,584 students get enrolled in primary education (Grade1-5) from 25 types of institutions.
Students enrolled in junior school education:
Junior secondary education includes the students of Grade-6 to Grade-8. The number of junior secondary students were 34,16,679 (BANBEIS 2018).
Drop-out was prevalent in every grade, the rates were higher in grade 2, 3 and 4.
However, the Net Enrolment Rate (NER) in primary and junior secondary education have been increasing during the past decade (BANBEIS 2018). The interruption of schooling due to Covid 19, can cause the dropout rate to rise.
Impacts and possible solutions
It is very much uncertain how long the Covid 19 could continue. The interruptions in education due to Covid 19, will not just be a short-term issue, but can also have long-term consequences.
The World Health Organization (WHO) hinted to the world that the novel coronavirus could linger for two more years. If it happens, the students would be affected badly.
Going to school is the best way to gather knowledge and skills and the consequences of closing down for a longer period is not good at all. The children could be mentally and physically demoralised.
Additionally, the shutdown of education institutions is going to cause a major interruption in students' learning; disruptions in internal assessments; and the cancellation of public assessments etc.
The impacts of closures on children's success are typically negative. After returning schools their grade or score could be lower than the previous year, some could drop out.
The impact could be much more severe for disadvantaged children and their families, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems, and economic problem to families who are unable to work.
In response to school closures, Unesco recommended the use of distance learning programmes and opening educational applications and platforms that can be used to limit the disruption of education.
But how effective can distant learning be in Bangladesh for the school students?
Nowadays student learning and assessments are moving towards online education.
Bangladesh Open University (BOU) is the only public university, offering Distance Education (DE), Modern DE is often called, Open and Distance Learning (ODL) because of its openness and flexibility.
As an ODL based university, in addition to offline mode, BOU provides online support to the students through advising, online admission, E-Books, Radio & TV programmes, cassettes, interactive virtual classroom (IVCR), learning management system (LMS), mobile applications and so on.
And currently, 5,19,615 students of BOU under different programmes are getting benefits from it.
When a crisis like Covid 19 hits, ODL could be an approach to minimize the educational disruption.
To mitigate the Covid-19 disruption, "distance education" module could be a model for both the public and private sector.
Although the coronavirus closure is challenging, some students who have access to modern technology and are able to use it, probably learn more, on average, than students did during closures past.
But most of the children will be affected due to no access to educational technology and unable to use it. Even if all families have access, the impact of technology will still be uneven.
Some schools and districts will make better use of technology than others, and few will use technology as well since they could if they had more time to plan.
Primarily the government has started to broadcast some class lectures through television. But to obtain better results the digital facilities, especially the internet, need to cover the whole country. Virtual classes could be arranged through personal tablets, mobiles.
Classes through radio can also be an option as almost every mobile device has access to radio. Though classes through radio is a primitive it can work until everyone have access to internet.
The mobile operators could be requested to improve their internet connectivity even to the most remote area of the country.
The companies should also be requested to reduce the price of the data plans, if not forever at least for now.
Unless the cost of accessibility decreases and quality of accessibility increases all over the country, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated.
The author is Controller of Examinations, Bangladesh Open University