As demands for the reopening of educational institutions have become louder, the education ministry and the primary and mass education ministry are claiming they have everything put in place for academic activities to resume any day.
The World Health Organisation recommends allowing in-person classes when the Covid infection rate drops below 5%, a criterion that Bangladesh met between 12 January and 8 March this year.
But schools, colleges and universities have continued to be shut since March last year, depriving a majority of the students of learning opportunities, and that in turn has increased the risk of dropouts.
Bangladesh is among the few countries that have chosen to keep schools shut since the outbreak. Schools are open in about 175 countries, including many states in the USA and in Europe though they have been battling against a fresh wave of the virus.
Even India, which still records around 450 deaths and 36,000 new cases of infection a day, reopened schools in most of its states, except in West Bengal.
On 18 August, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the authorities concerned to take all preparations to reopen educational institutions as soon as possible.
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, and the Directorate of Primary Education today asked their divisional, district and upazila-level officials to ensure a congenial learning environment across the country. They also have to make sure all teachers remain present in their institutions during school hours on workdays.
The authorities also emphasised the need for facilities so that teachers and students can wash hands at the institutions.
"About 85% teachers have received a Covid vaccine. I hope the rest of the teachers and staff will become immunized in a short span of time. So, we are just waiting for the infection rate to come down to below 5%," said Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni.
Md Zakir Hossain, state minister for the primary and mass education ministry, said all schools were capable of maintaining health guidelines. "If health experts recommend [resuming classes] and the Prime Minister's Office allows us to start classes, we will do that immediately."
The authority has planned to bring back students of class III, IV, and V to schools for three days a week and class I and II for one day. Zakir said.
"We have already shortened the syllabus and provided work sheets to students. We will evaluate primary students based on their answer scripts if we fail to hold in-person examinations," he added.
Sources at the education ministry said students of class IV and V, class X and XII would be the firsts to return to schools; only one student would sit on a bench and a maximum of 15 students would be able to attend a class together.
"We will reopen the schools partially and will observe the situation. If we think after consulting with health experts that the institutions can reopen fully, the ministry will do that," said Prof Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education.
Public universities will reopen hostels once residential students get vaccinated. First, final year graduate and undergraduate students will be allowed into hostels. After that, gradually, other non-residential students will get entry into the campuses.
Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed, vice-chancellor of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, told The Business Standard that most of their residential students had already been inoculated.
The university is waiting for government instructions, he said, adding that, "We will resume activities partially at first. If we see that the situation is good, then we will welcome all students," he said.
Education ministry sources said 90% of teachers and staff under the government monthly pay scheme had received vaccine shots. And 2.78 lakh non-monthly pay order teachers and employees out of 3.63 lakh received Covid jabs. The rest are on the waiting list.
There are more than 35,000 teachers at public and private universities, of them nearly 30,000 have already received Covid vaccines.
A total of 1.79 lakh university students have registered for vaccination and 80,000 of them got their first dose.
Demand of university teachers
The University Teachers' Network on Tuesday held a press conference and claimed that their fear turned into reality as most of the students could not attend online classes properly. Last year, it expressed doubts over the effectiveness of online classes without any prior plan and preparations.
The teachers' platform placed an 11-point demand including beginning a process to reopen universities in the first week of September, allowing in students in university halls from 1 September, ensuring Covid tests and vaccination of all students on campuses and introducing a hybrid education system,
It also demanded measures to ensure students' psychological wellbeing, low-cost internet packages to students and a safety net programme to bring back students who dropped out.
What health experts suggest
Prof Dr Nazrul Islam, a renowned virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said academic activities should not restart until the infection rate fell to below 5%
"The government took a chance to reopen the institutions in January but failed to do so. They were not prepared. Now the ministry is well prepared. It should not delay in resuming academic activities once the infection rate falls."
Nazrul, however, stressed the importance of wearing masks.
The government can reopen educational institutions right now as teachers and staff got the vaccines, said Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the BSMMU. Wearing masks must be mandatory and at the same time, schools must be clean and ensure enough ventilation, he said.
"The students will attend classes only. No gossip will be allowed and no gatherings of guardians on school premises."