With new textbooks in backpack, Motijheel Government Boy's High School student Mehedi Hasan became emotional as he hugged his friend.
The ninth-grader said he could not meet with his friend face-to-face in the last nine months, even though they live within a half-kilometre distance and used to have regular online chats.
"We have been actually passing dull days at home. And we do not know when our school will reopen. But today is different, a memorable day for us indeed," Mehedi said after taking group selfies on the school premises.
Friday was special for millions of primary and secondary students like Mehedi, since they got free textbooks from their respective schools, and an opportunity to meet their buddies on the very first day of the new year.
Educational institutions in the country have been shuttered since 17 March 2020 to prevent Covid-19 infection. Even though the institutions are expected to resume office activities on 16 January, class closure may be extended further since coronavirus infections show no sign of stopping.
Dipto Biswas, a fifth-grader of Sirajpur Government Primary School at Copmpaniganj in Noakhali district, said, "We were in a prison-like environment.
"I am not allowed to meet my friends or to play with them. But today it feels like dreams as I've come to the school, collected textbooks and met my friends. The book distribution has given us the scope for getting together again. I am really happy today."
Meanwhile, Salauddin Chowdhury, a guardian, said he was very happy seeing his kid very thrilled with the new books, and especially after hanging out with the friends.
"During the shutdown and afterwards, I bought numerous gifts for her, but nothing made her so happy," he said.
Although the government has been celebrating Textbook Fest since 2010 by distributing new books among students on the first day of the year, the celebration was halted this year due to the pandemic. Rather than handing over the new books in a day, the schools will be distributing those for weeks so that gatherings could be averted.
ZiaulKabir Dulu, president of Abhibhabak Oikya Forum, thanked the government for the initiative.
"Students passed a very tremendous day in the last nine months," he told The Business Standard.
In the meantime, teachers also were happy to see the little ones back to the educational institutions – even just for a brief time.
Motijheel Boy's High School's Head Teacher Syed Hafizul Islam said students' presence seemed to have brought the schools back to life.
"Their joy on the first day of the year also makes us happy," said Qamrul Islam Rashed, head teacher of Sirajpur Government School in Noakhali.
"The first day of the new year is very precious and very different. I thank the government for not depriving us of the joy this year too," he added.
Books to be distributed in 12 days
More than 35 crore textbooks will be distributed among around 4.27 crore pre-primary, primary, ebtedayee, secondary, dakhil, dakhil (vocational), and secondary school certificate (vocational) students this year.
More than 10 crore books will be given to primary and 24 crore books to secondary level students.
With the Covid-19 continuing its round-ups, the textbooks will be handed over to the students in 12 days to avoid gatherings.
The government has been holding the festival on the first day of every year since 2010 and it is usually inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina by handing over new books to students at Ganabhaban.
Unlike the previous years, the premier on Thursday inaugurated the distribution virtually at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) in the city.
Like the previous year, the government is distributing around 2.13 lakh textbooks printed in five different languages to 94,274 ethnic students. Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Garo and Sadri children from pre-primary to third grade will get the books.
On top of this, 1,187 visually impaired students will get Braille books this year.
Pandemic 'delays' book supply
Even though most of the district-level primary schools have already been provided with free textbooks, many secondary schools are yet to get those.
"Around 85% of the primary schools and 55 secondary schools across the country have received textbooks so far," Bangladesh Pustak Prokashok O Bikreta Samity President Tofayel Khan told TBS Friday.
Meantime, Narayan Chandra Saha, chairman of National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), said they could not send the books in due time since the pandemic hampered book printing.
He said the secondary schools that did not receive books until Friday would get those this week.