Md Nizam Uddin has been selling paper, pens and other stationery items in front of Borhanuddin Girls High School for at least 10 years. He sells ice-cream, beverages, and frozen products too.
His sales in pre-pandemic times used to be Tk6,000 per day, which have now come down to Tk2,000. He is going through very tough times as his current income does not cover his daily family expenses.
"At least 70% of the students at the school were my customers. Now, a few students come to my shop but not every day. I am just trying to survive with whatever I can earn and waiting for the reopening of the school," Nizam said.
It is not only Nizam but businesses dependent on the academic activities of students have also been counting massive losses since 17 March last year when the government ordered a shutdown of educational institutions as part of its measures to contain Covid-19.
There are about two lakh educational institutions with 4.5 crore students from pre-primary to university level in the country.
The businesses have so far incurred losses amounting to at least Tk60,000 crore, according to estimates by people in the industry.
Since June last year, all other sectors of the economy have been allowed to reopen except on the days of strict lockdowns, but all educational institutions still remain closed and academic activities are allowed to operate online.
The closure will officially continue till 31 August and might get extended again as the country needs to keep the Covid-19 infection rate at 5% or below for three weeks. For the last many days, the infection rate has been hovering near or above 30%.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI), told The Business Standard that it is indeed true that the sales of school related items and goods have declined drastically.
Many private universities and schools are passing through a very critical moment and have lost a huge amount of money owing to the pandemic, he said.
"Basically, school closure hit the total economy. It will be tough to recover soon," he added.
At the same time, pupils are going through a learning gap, the impact of which will hit the country after 50 years, he further said.
According to a report of the World Bank, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted education for 1.6 billion children worldwide over the past year.
The economy will never have a full momentum for recovery from pandemic shocks by keeping schools closed. The reason is clear – industries and services linked to educational institutions have been bearing the brunt of school closure, holding back the speed of recovery.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in a report released last September, noted that the world would see a 1.5% drop in economic output for the rest of this century because of skills loss due to the disruption in schooling stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bangladesh is not shielded from the colossal damage to future skills inflicted by the prolonged closure of educational institutions as today's kids are the potential workforce of tomorrow's economy.
Restaurants lose 30% customers from educational institutions
Hotels and restaurants across the country have suffered losses amounting to Tk90,000 crore until now owing to restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. Of the amount, Tk30, 000 have been lost due to the closure of educational institutions as 30% of their customers are students and educational institutions-related persons, according to the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association.
Around 60,000 of all hotels and restaurants have been counting losses since the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 and 10-15% of them have closed down permanently.
Firoz Alam Sumon, joint secretary of the organisation, told TBS that many floating people receive their services, but students are their permanent customers.
"We are in a severe crisis in the absence of students at restaurants. Guardians, school teachers, staff and others are also not going to restaurants now owing to the closure of the institutions," he said.
Publication industry in tatters too
Mizanur Rahman Patwari, owner of Mizan Publishers, has been in the publishing business for over 42 years, but never before has he faced a financial crisis of this magnitude.
His book sales have stagnated since March this year due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, causing him to suffer losses of around Tk15 crore.
The Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh reports a loss of Tk9,000 crore of its members, the Bangladesh Publishers and Book-Sellers Association (BAPUS) reports a loss of Tk11,000 crore while the Bangladesh Knowledge and Creative Publishers Association says its members have lost more than Tk200 crore.
According to BAPUS Vice-President Shyamol Paul, "The association has 26,000 members and about 2 lakh staff across the country. Considering our substantial losses since last year, it will not be possible for us to keep the industry afloat unless the Covid-19 situation improves or the government provides us with an incentive package."
Paper industry in a bad shape
There are 106 paper mills in the country. Of them, 79 have closed down due to the impact of the pandemic and some other factors.
According to Bangladesh Paper Mills Association, businesses have invested Tk70, 000 crore and are now counting losses of Tk8000 crore since March 2020.
Majedul Islam, general manager of Bashundhara Paper Mills, told TBS that the paper business will not turn around until educational institutions reopen.
Ice-cream, beverage manufacturers suffer
At least 20 companies – including Matador, Pran-RFL, Icon, Great Writing and Janani – produce more than 200 types of stationery items like calculators, staplers, hole punch, pens, pencils, highlighters and diaries in the country.
Due to the closure of educational institutions, not even 50% of the Tk1,500 crore market in this sector has returned to normal, according to industry insiders.
Kamruzzaman Kamal, director (marketing) of Pran-RFL, told TBS that the sales of stationery items had declined by almost 90%. "We are passing bad days with stationary items."
The ice-cream and beverage industry is also counting losses of about Tk5000 crore. The market for ice-cream amounts to around Tk3,000 crore, while annual growth is about 20%. The biggest buyers of ice-cream are school and college students. Production in the ice cream industry, which has almost shut down since the onset of the pandemic, has not reached more than 15%-20% of the pre-pandemic period.
Kamrul Islam, former chief executive officer of Igloo Ice Cream, said, "Every sector opens when the virus situation improves and closes when it worsens, but educational institutions have not reopened since March 2020. As a result, ice cream and beverage companies are experiencing huge losses."
Tutoring also in trouble
According to Bangladesh Tutor Providers' Association, the number of students seeking private tuitions has declined by 70%, compared to the pre-Covid-19 pandemic situation.
Nuruzzaman, a fourth year student of Jagannath University, has been trying to get a tutor's job for several months, but in vain. "I have been to every tuition-providing office I know. They told me that they have no offer."
Like Nuruzzaman, at least three lakh students earn by tutoring. Their yearly earning is Tk200 crore.