The country's education sector is in fear of another blow as political chaos lingers after the huge learning loss because of the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago.
During the pandemic, schools remained shut for one and a half years from March 2020.
In the past two weeks, the primary and secondary level institutions - which accommodate around three crore children – witnessed a decline in the attendance of students by at least 15-20%, owing to continuous blockades and strikes enforced mainly by the BNP and other opposition parties.
The parties launched the political shutdowns on 29 October and vowed to continue it until their demands centring on the upcoming general election are met.
The exam schedules have already been disrupted with the annual evaluation for class VI and VII students under the new curriculum being rescheduled to 9 November from 5 November.
The annual exams for classes eight through ten are scheduled to start this week across the country, as the education ministry has a directive to conclude all evaluations by 30 November.
If political instability lingers more, guardians are worried about the timely completion of the SSC exam in 2024, which is scheduled to start in the second week of February.
Meanwhile, the exams in most of the public universities have also been rescheduled, though classes are continuing.
Many private universities and English-medium schools in the capital have started online classes to complete their syllabus within the stipulated time but are worried about the lack of physical presence of students.
Visiting on 5 November, students' attendance at Graduates High School in Old Dhaka's Tipu Sultan Road and Shahid Smriti High School in Nawabpur were found to have reduced by 20%.
Bajlur Rashid, the assistant headmaster of Shahid Smriti High School, told The Business Standard, "Due to the blockade, attendance of students has now decreased to 60-65% from the usual 85-90%.
He said that the parents of students who live far away from school are now afraid to send their children to school. Students who live in nearby areas have better attendance.
The Principal of Khilgaon Girls School and College Ranajan Kumar Roy on 9 November told TBS, "Most of our students reside in the nearby areas, yet their attendance has decreased by 10-15%."
There was full attendance of students during the assessment tests for Class VI and Class VII on 9 November, he mentioned, adding that there is pressure on the teachers and guardians, especially security concerns, as the annual examination is scheduled to begin on 13 November.
The annual exam of Class III student Fatima Mehnur, who studies at Mirpur Cantonment Girls Public School, started on 10 November.
Usually, she uses the school bus for transportation from her home in Mirpur-11 area, but the service has been closed since the blockade started.
"Now, I accompany my grandchild to reach school by an auto rickshaw. We do not use public buses due to fear of arson attack," Gias Uddin, grandfather of Fatima, told TBS.
Education officials say that it will not be possible to train teachers for the new curriculum in December if the annual examination of the schools is not completed in November. Also, the plan to introduce new curriculum in three more classes next year will also be difficult to start on time.
Sources at the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education said that annual examination and summative evaluation tests will be conducted at the scheduled time. However, new steps may be taken after observing the situation.
Regarding the ongoing political programmes, Education Minister Dipu Moni recently said at a press briefing that the strikes and blockades have caused many difficulties for students, creating fear in the public mind.
"Many students are now voters. A programme that leaves student voters in uncertainty cannot be said a political programme," she added.
In addition, job seekers had to suffer a lot to reach Dhaka to attend the preliminary test for the Senior Officer (General post) at 10 state-owned banks and financial institutions on 10 November.
The applicants earlier demanded the test be postponed, citing lack of long-haul buses amid the blockades, but the authorities did not pay heed to it.
The fourth phase of a countrywide blockade called by the BNP starts today, demanding the resignation of the incumbent government, formation of a non-partisan government for the upcoming general polls, and the release of party men, including Chairperson Khaleda Zia.