Private educational institutions, particularly kindergartens, are facing an existential threat owing to a prolonged closure meant to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kindergartens across the country are in severe financial crises and cannot even pay salaries to their teachers. With no way out of the problem, many of the elementary schools have been closed down permanently.
Both owners and teachers are now passing through a miserable condition, with many of them already having changed their professions.
The most distressing matter is that some school owners have reportedly committed suicide over their failure to bear the financial stress. Many have turned their schools into grocery shops, laundries and other businesses.
Many teachers have also switched professions, to become boatmen, vendors and day labourers.
Md Kaiser founded Learning Point Cadet Academy at Nabiganj in Habiganj 2014. To fund the project, he had to sell land.
Kaiser tried his level best to save the school. He had been hopeful that the Covid-19 infection would come down and the government would allow educational institutions to reopen.
But the government has once again extended the closure of educational institutions till 19 December, with the country's Covid-19 infection rate still being high at 17.05%.
It has upset him, finally. "I have lost everything. I cannot find a job right now and have no capital to launch another business. I am now selling tea on the footpath. I don't know how I will overcome my disastrous situation," he said.
Nizam Uddin has been with Anjuman Model High School at Adabar in the capital since 2003. He could not go for savings as he spent all his income from the school on running academic activities smoothly. He kept his school with 600 students and 28 teachers running till June.
Eventually, he had to cave in to reality. Now he sells children's food and washes people's clothes inside the school.
The country has around 55,000 private educational institutions, including nursery schools, which employ about eight lakh teachers.
There are about 80 lakh students in the schools.
According to the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, at least 15% of private school teachers have left their profession, while the rest have also been going through misery.
As per the observation of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, about 50% of the teachers will be forced to change their profession if coronavirus lingers in Bangladesh.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary general of the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, told The Business Standard, "Two owners have committed suicide in Brahmanbaria and Kurigram. Many are leading miserable lives."
"Dignity is the asset of a teacher. But now many teachers are being compelled to do the job of a vendor, day labourer and even tea seller. This is very unfortunate for the teachers," he said.
"Actually, it is very harmful for the country as students are now out of touch with education."
Ikbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, told TBS that a maximum number of schools cannot pay salaries to the teachers.
"We don't know when the schools will reopen. The fate of the private schools and kindergarten teachers is getting uncertain," he said.
"The owners of kindergarten schools have invested more than Tk1,500 crore in the sector. Most of the investment will go in vain if the coronavirus continues."
Jahangir Hossain has been running Bright Star Bidyaniketon and High School since 2005. It has 300 students and 22 teachers. The school is closed now and students are out of touch with the institution.
Jahangir paid the school rent and teachers' salaries till May. In June, he fell into a severe crisis. He took shelter at his school with his family comprising four members. Now his school has turned into a home.
"I cannot pay the rent and that is why the school owner misbehaved with me. Now I am helpless," he said.
Moshiur Rahman Suruz, founder of Rode Model Kindergarten in Meherpur, is selling biscuits from door to door to manage his family expenses.
"I was never ready for such a situation. I had a dream to be the founder of a reputed institution. But Covid-19 has dashed my dream," he said.
No government help yet for private school teachers
The government recently allocated Tk46.63 crore for 81,000 non-MPO (monthly pay order) teachers and 25,000 employees of different educational institutions. Each teacher will get Tk5,000 and each employee Tk2,500 as a one-off measure.
But the amount is too meagre, compared to the number of teaching staff, to be able to reduce their hardship, according to teachers.
The government also does not have any immediate plan for these professionals – over 8 lakh teachers and employees in around 40,000 kindergartens and 9,000 non-MPO institutions countrywide.
The Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad on 10 November urged the prime minister to reopen private educational institutions by maintaining health guidelines.
It also demanded financial help for its teachers and staff in the interest of their survival.
Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told The Business Standard that the education ministry has no more plans to help private school teachers right now.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary general of the Bangladesh Kindergartens Association, said, "We cannot endure the crisis faced by our teachers and staff. That is why we have sought Tk500 crore from the government for their survival."