An indefinite school closure and postponement of exams due to Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh have caused great worries among school-going youths over their education, finds a qualitative survey.
Respondents to the study conducted among adolescents from urban slums and low-income settlements of Dhaka also reported self-study at home is far more challenging than doing it at the school with support from teachers.
At home, they do not have access to the much-needed guidance, instructions and notes from experienced instructors, according to the study jointly conducted by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health (BRAC JPGSPH) of Brac University, and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA).
The research findings were presented yesterday at a virtual event titled "Young people's voices during Covid-19: How the pandemic affected adolescents in urban slums and low-income settlements in Dhaka."
The study was conducted under the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme, funded by UK Aid from the UK government.
Conducted in two rounds – first from April 2020 to June 2020 (33 respondents) and, second; revisiting the same sample in October 2020 to November 2020 (30 respondents) – the study aimed to understand the impact of the pandemic and countrywide lockdown on the lived realities of adolescent boys and girls living in slums and low-income settlements.
The respondents were 12-14 years old and 17-19 years old.
The study also found adolescents from these areas are in risk of falling behind in attaining educational outcomes due to lower access to Internet and mobile device.
Moreover, there were significant differences among male and female adolescent respondents in how Covid-19 affected them, in terms of education, domestic burden, mobility and future risks and potentials.
"This particular research has shed light on the 'infodemic' of misinformation that is taking place due to the pandemic crisis. But a positive finding from this research is that adolescents, even from low-income settings, are at least aware of the coronavirus," reflected Rasheda K Chowdhury, former advisor to the caretaker government and chair of the virtual event.
"The increasing dropout, early marriage, and child labour are occurring during the pandemic. So, there is no alternative to reopening schools. There may be a zoning to reopen the school in preliminary level," Rasheda, also honorary executive director of CAMPE, added.
Bangladesh is one of the countries that are worst-hit by Covid-19, and slum dwellers, who account for 6.33% of the urban population and 1.48% of the national population (BBS, 2014), are one of the most economically vulnerable communities during this crisis.
S M Latif, a deputy secretary of Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and the project director at Accelerating Protection for Children (APC), outlined different government initiatives around adolescent welfare.
"For the first time in Bangladesh, we have started the National Adolescent Health Strategy which focuses on 4 key areas – adolescent sexual and reproductive health, violence against adolescents, adolescent nutrition, and mental health of adolescents," he said.
"We need to ensure that there is a strong focus on remedial education to reduce the inequities that arose during the Covid-19 schooling crisis, using whatever resources and technologies that are available," recommended Dr Imran Matin, executive director, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).
Dr Sabina F Rashid, dean and professor, BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, Brac University, said, "These young adolescents are having to tackle the pandemic while facing a lack of interaction with peers, the realities of economic and financial burdens, and imagining an uncertain future, which has huge implications on their emotional and mental health."
The research findings were presented by Maheen Sultan, senior fellow of Practice and head of Gender and Social Transformation Cluster, BIGD, and Farhana Alam, assistant director, Center of Excellence for Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (CGSRHR), BRAC JPGSPH.
Workneh Yadete, GAGE Ethiopia Qualitative Research Lead and Research Uptake and Impact coordinator, and Dr Jennifer Seager, assistant professor, George Washington University, were also present at the event.