The country's education sector is going to face another shock as the secondary and higher secondary certificates exams have been postponed amid the twin threat of rising Covid-19 infections and the ongoing floods across the country.
The Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams will start after Eid, while the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams will start two months after the SSC exams begin.
Md Abu Bakar Siddique, secretary of the Secondary and Higher Education Division of the education ministry, confirmed the matter.
Professor Nehal Ahmed, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told The Business Standard that the education ministry is worried about the rising Covid-19 cases, while the sudden floods have also played a role in the decision.
"We have sent letters to all the educational institutions to strictly follow the health guidelines. No students will be allowed in the schools without wearing masks," he said.
Asked about their preparation if institutions are closed again, he said they will continue online classes and assignments like earlier. The higher educational institutions will also take exams online.
"We are ready to take any initiative if the government asks us to close the institutions," he said.
Thousands of students have already dropped out since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
Many others faced severe learning losses as they could not take part in the online classes due to lack of digital devices and costly internet connections.
As exams were disrupted, many students secured automatic promotions.
In the meantime, the government apparently failed to bring back the dropouts to school and did not allocate a special budget in this regard.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told TBS that there was no other option but taking a long-term plan to save the education sector from disaster.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, told TBS that the floods added another challenge. "The education ministry should arrange a meeting with education experts and take an immediate future action of plan."
SSC, HSC exams delayed for flood
The SSC and HSC exams were scheduled to begin from 19 June and 22 August. But the sudden flood in Sylhet and Sunamganj disrupted all the preparations, prompting the education ministry to suspend the exams.
Even now, the ministry has not announced a concrete date.
Professor Tapan Kumar Sarkar, chairman of the Dhaka Education Board, told TBS that new areas have been inundated every day.
"Actually, nobody knows about the flood situation and we cannot announce any new date before things improve," he added.
Sources in the education ministry said the SSC exams may start from the last week of July. As a result, the students have to wait another one month meaning they would lose almost six months as normally exams begin from the first week of February every year.
SSC, HSC examinees worried
Refayet Islam, a SSC examine from the Motijheel Ideal School and College, told TBS that he was ready to take part in the SSC exams on 19 June, but the ministry postponed it without announcing a new date.
"We are worried about our examinations. We are already six months behind schedule. So, the ministry should announce the new date soon," he added.
Nure Tabassum (not her real name), a HSC examinee from the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, told TBS that they assume that the exams will be held from the last week of September. "But we fear the rising pandemic."
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the National Technical Advisory committee on Covid-19, told TBS that 13% infection rate meant it had reached an epidemic level.
"Everyone should wear masks and avoid gatherings, including educational institutions. It will be tough to keep schools open if the infection trend is on the rise. We need a meeting to make a decision in this regard. Hopefully, it will be held soon," he said.
Starting new curriculum will be a challenge next year
The government began the piloting of the proposed new competency-based national school curriculum from 22 February at 62 secondary schools. But the pilot has been hampered partially due to the floods.
It will be difficult to continue if the Covid-19 infection also continues to rise.