Around six million school kids are facing a learning loss risk, which is mainly prevalent in extremely poor households, according to a study.
There is a high risk of learning loss among schoolchildren in the country as a result of school closure forced by Covid-19 situation, said Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman at the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), at a webinar on Monday while presenting the survey results.
The study found that 19% of primary school students and 25% of secondary school students face the risk of learning loss, which accounts for 5.92 million children in total.
The PPRC and the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) have jointly undertaken a series of telephonic surveys to find out the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Bangladesh over time. Dr Hossain Zillur and Dr Imran Matin, executive director at the BIGD, presented the results of one such survey at the webinar.
In March 2021, a 60-person team surveyed 6,099 households (43% rural and 57% urban) to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on education. From the sample size, 4,940 households have school-going children.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, schools have remained closed across Bangladesh, which consequently led to a high risk of learning loss. This is to say schoolchildren have either stopped studying altogether or continued to study unsupervised or have studied irregularly. It is very much likely that learning loss may lead to dropouts, the study said.
Learning loss may morph into a motivational loss to pursue education. Parents are most concerned about when schools will reopen and whether their children will be as attentive as before, said Dr Imran.
In the case of secondary school students' parents, they are noticeably worried about whether their children will be able to secure a job with "auto pass" school results.
School closure has also increased the out-of-pocket expenditure on education because 51% of primary students and 61% of secondary students availededucation from coaching centres or through private tuition, defeating the purpose of school closure to keep students at home.
This has translated into an uptick in an increase of cost by 11 times in rural households and 13 times in urban households from June 2020 to March 2021, according to the survey.
The study suggests that primary and secondary schools reopen only by considering the situation of the second wave in the country. This can address the learning loss and an increased out-of-pocket education cost.
The primary and secondary school stipend programmes that already exist should be expanded to tackle the increased out-of-pocket education cost, meaning allocating a higher budget for the education sector for the fiscal 2021-2022, it also suggests.
The reopening of schools alone cannot amend the learning loss crisis. To truly address this, additional programmes outside of class hours need to be considered to help students regain motivation to study, it adds.
One of the prevalent limitations of online school in the country is the lack of technical support at home, the survey found that overall only 10% of students had access to or used distance learning opportunities.
The experts advised that distance learning opportunities have proved to have a limited impact. New online school mediums such as radio as a hybrid interactive solution can be considered.
Additionally, the psychological impact of school closures can lead to a social alienation crisis, the experts fear.
Some 12% of 10-20 years old reported that they are suffering from mental stress, which has been manifested in the form of angry or violent behaviour, irritable mood or fear of going outside.
"If the students were asked, we may have gotten a higher figure," said Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman. The study surveyed the guardians.
He also noted that the overall parents' unawareness about mental health needs to be taken into account, especially at this pandemic time.