Alternatives to classroom instructions through distance education have been a very partial compensation because the majority of students did not have connectivity and devices. In any case, the lack of contact with teachers makes it a poor alternative.
The learning losses, therefore, have been large, and the full immediate and longer-term impacts still have to be assessed. The educational impacts are both immediate and longer term as well as direct and indirect.
The immediate effects are, as noted, the loss of almost a year of learning, which set all students back, and the disadvantaged ones in social and economic terms even more so. More privileged students who have good access to the internet and devices, whose parents are educated, and who can get help from private tutors, have managed to remain engaged in education and have taken the advantage of online learning.
The majority of the disadvantaged students, especially in rural areas and city slums, have remained deprived. One effect, therefore, is the widening of disparities in educational opportunities.
The economic effects on households arose from the loss of jobs and income. Families close to the poverty line were pushed back into poverty, and they also faced nutrition and wellbeing losses. The consequences are increased incidences of child labour, early marriage of girls, and greater abuse and repression of children and women at home.
All these affect children's education and wellbeing and will result in a higher dropout rate of girls and boys as well as poor school performance.
For higher education and technical-vocational education students, the delay in completing courses and entering the job market have resulted in personal setbacks as well as problems for the economy in filling job market needs.
Looking ahead, given the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the end of which is not in sight, there has to be contingency planning, keeping in view different options and fulfilling some essential conditions.
These conditions are attention to health and safety of students and teachers, recovery plan for learning losses, mitigating increased disparities, and adopting measures to local conditions rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Schools cannot continue to remain closed indefinitely. They have to be reopened in line with essential health and safety measures. The planning for school re-opening by ensuring such measures, and helping students recoup losses have to be done for each school within the broad guideline of the education authorities.
Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus of Brac University