Campaign for Popular Education (Campe), an advocacy and campaign network, has demanded that the government allocates 20% of the budget for the education sector to recover the learning losses and to ensure quality education.
"It will be tough to get manpower to achieve the sustainable development goals if the government fails to take initiatives to recover and reform the education sector. To do this it needs a budget and a proper plan," said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairperson of the Education Watch, at a virtual dialogue titled "Budget 2021-22: We need a Pandemic Response Education Budget" on Thursday.
"I will suggest the government provide stipends to 100% girls at secondary level across the country to check dropout and to ensure quality education," he said.
Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad presided over the dialogue, which Planning Minister MA Mannan attended as the chief guest.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of the Campe, moderated the programme while, Aroma Dutta, member of parliament, Mahbub Hossain, secretary (Secondary and Higher Education) of the education ministry, and Dr Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus of Brac University, among others, spoke the programme.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed said, "The government will not be able to reopen the educational institutions all at once. So, it must reopen the institutions in phases. And the government must complete rapid antigen tests in a planned way in those areas."
"The education ministry must take a two to three-year-plan to recover the learning losses. It must put emphasis on basic subjects like Bangla and Mathematics at the primary level, and Bangla, Mathematics, Science and English at the secondary level," he said.
"It would not be wise to cut the topics from the selected subjects," he added.
"Forming upazila and school-based working groups is a must to recover the learning losses and check incidents of dropout. It is also equally important to introduce provision of meals to students at all the schools across the country," he said.
KM Enamul Hoque, deputy director of Campe, presented the keynote paper at the programme.
"The government's two-year plan for education, prepared as a funding proposal in response to Covid-19, led to small external grants. But the government has not yet taken any significant step, except some distance education initiatives, in this regard. These brought limited and uneven results," Enamul Hoque said in his keynote paper.
About the expansion of digitalisation in the education sector, the keynote speaker said, "TV, internet, mobile and radio-based learning programmes were introduced but they are yet to reach substantial numbers of learners. This led to a digital divide and widened disparity. Academic support, development of standard operating procedure and quality assurance are not visible yet."
"The government and MPO supported teachers and institutions have been receiving their regular payment, but others have been going through great distress. Only a small amount of money is given to non-MPO teachers. Many educational institutions are disappearing and teachers leaving their jobs in order to earn their livelihood by taking up other professions," said KM Enamul Hoque.
He further said the pandemic's psychological effect on learners, social isolation, lack of access to school meals and lack of physical movement affected the students' health and wellbeing.
The Campe suggested the authorities concerned to increase budget for digitalisation of the teaching-learning process including teachers' capacity development and inter-ministerial cooperation.
It also recommended enhancing effort to improve alternative education and distance learning including developing blended learning approaches and also developing self-learning materials.
Increasing investment for the WASH programme in every educational institution was among its suggestions.
The advocacy group also suggested increasing collaboration with non-state, non-profit actors with provision of adequate resources by the government.
The Campe further recommended considering formula based financing to address the inequality and taking affirmative actions in favour of the most marginalised group.
The organisation also called for creation of an "Education Support Fund" for addressing and mitigating the adverse impact of Covid-19 on education.