Educationist fear recovering students' learning losses will be harder if the reopening of educational institutions is delayed again because of the current rise in coronavirus infections.
The government is preparing a remedial learning strategy for all primary and secondary students to help them recover the lost academic progress they would have gained if schools had not been closed due to the pandemic.
But, the initiative will be hampered if the government defers the reopening of schools again.
Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus at Brac University, told The Business Standard that the learning losses will be severe if the schools remain closed further.
"The students are already in huge learning losses. Most of them could not attend online classes last year. Three months of this year have already passed. So, it will be tough to recover the learning losses."
The government must shape a long-term plan to continue communications with students.
He said government and non-government organisations had to work together in this regard. "Otherwise, the nation will count huge losses."
The infection rate, which had been below 5% for about two months, has been going up since last week. On Monday, the infection rate rose to 9.48%, the highest in 81 days.
Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, described the current infection rate as alarming.
He said the reopening of schools would be tough if the situation continued like this.
"We will rethink the reopening of schools on 30 March. We will not make any decision which will put our students at risk of getting infected," he said.
The professor said schools and colleges were ready to restart academic activities. "They will face some difficulties if reopening is delayed."
As infections have been rising again, health experts have made it clear that schools should not be reopened now.
They added, though, that the government would face another challenge as its plans to recover learning losses and check dropouts might fail if academic activities could not be restarted on 30 March.
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said it would not be wise to reopen educational institutions at this moment because the infection rate had not yet gone below 5%.
"It is tough to say whether cases of infection will increase if schools are reopened, but we are sure that children will get infected, and so will their family members," said Nazrul Islam, who is a member of the national technical advisory committee on Covid-19.
Earlier on 12 March, Education Minister Dipu Moni said, "We are observing the situation. The reopening of educational institutions may be deferred if infections continue to rise."
She said the safety of students, teachers and others concerned came first.
SSC, HSC exams to be delayed
Usually, SSC exams begin on 1 February and HSC exams on 1 April every year. But HSC exams were not held last year due to the pandemic.
The education ministry continued classes through online platforms, though many surveys noted that most students had not attended these classes.
The ministry has also prepared a short syllabus for both SSC and HSC examinees. As per the syllabus, SSC examinations will be held after classes are conducted for 60 days, and HSC examinations after 80 days.
Thus, this year's SSC and HSC exams will not be held according to the usual schedule.
If classes start in May, SSC exams will be held in September and HSC tests in October.
Short syllabus for each class
Education ministry sources said the government was thinking about shortening the syllabus of all classes this year if school reopening was delayed.
Prof Narayan Chandra Saha, chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, said the board had not yet received any instructions from the ministry in this regard.
"We will shorten the syllabus if the ministry orders us to do so."
Private schools to face another shock
The financial crisis caused by the pandemic has brought miseries to the lives of countless private school teachers across the country. Many schools have already shut down.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary general of Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, told The Business Standard kindergartens would not get any students if schools reopened in May or June.
"We do not know how we will survive. Moreover, we will not be able to reopen kindergartens after the Covid-19 crisis is over if we do not get any financial assistance," he said.
On 16 March last year, the government decided to keep all educational institutions shut in the interest of students' safety. Later, the closure was extended several times until 30 March this year.
Apart from HSC tests, Primary School Certificate (PSC), Junior School Certificate (JSC), and their equivalent exams were not held last year due to the pandemic.
PSC and JSC examinees got auto promotions while HSC examinees were assessed on the basis of their JSC and SSC results.
All primary and secondary students were also promoted to the next grades automatically.