- There were 60,000 schools, kindergartens before the pandemic
- They had 1 crore students and 10 lakh teachers and staffers
- 15,000 schools with 25 lakh students shuttered permanently
- Partial operation, low student turnout mark school reopening
- Tk1,500cr loan sought by the schools, govt says no to them
After incurring Tk30 lakh in losses caused by the pandemic-led school closure, London International Academy in Dhaka's Gulshan permanently closed down in March this year.
Saiful Islam, owner of the school and its head teacher, left Dhaka and moved to his ancestral home in Jamalpur to start all over again. Before leaving the capital, he asked his 350 primary and secondary students to get admitted elsewhere though he knew it would not be easy in the middle of an academic year.
Like the Dhaka school, financial strains forced Vision International School to close down in the port city of Chattogram in February this year, leaving the fate of its 450 students in limbo.
These are only two examples from about 15,000 private schools and kindergartens with 25 lakh students across Bangladesh that went broke owing to the pandemic fallout. The 12-September-school-reopening bears no meaning for them.
Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, told The Business Standard there were 60,000 kindergartens with around 1 crore students and 10 lakh teachers and staffers before the pandemic.
Iqbal Bahar said the remaining 45,000 kindergartens that managed to reopen now face as low as a 60% student turnout while regular attendance rate had been 90%-95% on average.
"Many of our students moved to their ancestral villages with their families, some became child labourers while many girls got married," he noted.
He said the institutions have also been facing severe teacher shortages as half of the teachers had switched to other professions.
Md Takbir, head teacher of the private school Fulkuri in the city's Mohammadpur area, told TBS that though he has reopened the school, now he cannot run it properly due to a teacher shortage.
"I have approached some graduates to join my school. But they turned me down, arguing that teaching at private schools is an uncertain job," he said.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, said all 10 lakh teachers and staffers had suffered so badly that many of them had to turn daily wage earners for survival.
No plan for Tk1,500cr loan to kindergartens
According to teachers, at least half of the private schools that reopened on 12 September are now operating partially due to financial strains. They fear the partial operation will hamper teaching, learning and learning loss recovery.
To counteract the virus fallout, private schools and kindergartens have demanded that the government provide them with a Tk1,500crore soft loan.
"After losing the capital, many schools have moved to tiny rented rooms. But continuing academic activities there is difficult. Therefore, we asked for the loan," said Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury.
Teachers said virus safety measures cannot be maintained in the cramped rooms.
"We are trying to follow the health guidelines. But it is difficult to spend money on safety measures," said Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association.
Prof Syed Golam Faruk, director-general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told TBS that the education ministry is busy in charting out the learning recovery plan, and does not have any plan to help the private schools now.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus of Brac University, said the government must provide the private schools with financial support to save the future generations. Otherwise, the students will be the ultimate victims.