Most of the students will have in-person classes once a week as educational institutions are finally reopening on 12 September – after an 18-month closure forced by the Covid pandemic – with regular class hours for just 25% of students.
Education experts say holding classes for one day a week cannot make up for the learning losses caused by the prolonged shutdown of schools and colleges.
Countries such as India, Pakistan and developed countries have partially resumed their in-person classes, but they still continue online classes with the participation of a good number of students.
But in Bangladesh, online classes apparently failed to achieve the target as most students could not attend classes owing to a lack of digital devices, high costs of Internet packages and unavailable networks.
According to Unicef, 770 million children across the world still were not going to school full-time by the end of June 2021. And, more than 150 million kids in 19 countries had no access to in-person schooling. They were either learning virtually or had no schooling at all.
Unesco estimated last year that around 24 million schoolchildren would drop out as a result of the pandemic.
The Bangladesh government shut all educational institutions on 17 March 2020 as part of its measures to contain Covid-19 infections. It took efforts to reopen them several times but had to further extend the closure because of surges in Covid-19 cases.
Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) examinees for 2021 and 2022, and students of Class V will attend classes six days a week. Other students from primary to higher levels will have in-person classes only one day a week, said Education Minister Dipu Moni after an inter-ministerial meeting at the Secretariat in the capital on Sunday.
There are around 4 crore students at school and college levels. Of them, 90 students will sit for PSC, SSC and HSC examinations. The remaining 3.1 crore students will have to join classes once a week.
"We will start classes from 12 September on a limited scale. We will increase days for I to IV and VI, VII. VIII and IX gradually if the situation improves further," Dr Dipu Moni said.
"We have asked schools, colleges and madrasas to complete their preparation for resuming classes with health safety by 9 September. Our officials are working to ensure it. There will also be adequate arrangements for sanitisers and other hygiene products," she said.
"The educational institutions must strictly follow the health guidelines. We have asked teachers to communicate with guardians and create awareness about health safety. No students will be allowed at schools if he or she carries virus symptoms or if they have Covid patients in their homes," the minister pointed out.
"It is a clear message that students will not be allowed to enter any educational institution without wearing masks. All, including teachers and staff, must wear masks," she added.
"Each school must send a checklist to the ministry every day. We will oversee daily academic and other activities of schools. If we observe that the infection rate is high owing to the reopening of schools, we will close those in areas with high infections for a certain period," the minister added.
"The students could join extracurricular activities for their physical and mental satisfaction under the strict supervision of their teachers," she said.
Students above 12 to get vaccines
The government has plans to inoculate students aged 12 and above after ensuring the availability of adequate vaccine doses, said the education minister.
"We will gradually bring all the students who are above 12 years under the vaccination scheme. The health ministry is working in this regard. It needs a special arrangement too," she also said.
"The prime minister earlier said students who are above 18 years will get vaccines. Now, she directed ensuring inoculation of students who are above 12 years," the minister said.
JSC, JDC and PEC exams
Asked about Junior School Certificate (JSC), Junior Dakhil Certificate (JDC) and Primary Education Completion (PEC) examinations, the education minister said they will try to complete the short syllabus and will hold the examinations if the Covid-19 situation improves greatly.
"We want to hold annual examinations too. But everything depends on the situation," she said.
Recovery of learning losses uncertain
As per the survey and prediction of different national and international organisations, students are facing severe learning losses due to the pandemic. Even learning poverty is high in Bangladesh. Some 63% of students are facing learning poverty in the country, according to a recent study by the World Bank.
Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of IER at Dhaka University, said, "Holding classes one day per week will not help in offsetting learning losses. It would be better if classes were taken daily by dividing students into two groups – one in the morning and another in the afternoon."
He also opined for necessary training for teachers.
Professor Narayan Chandra Saha, chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), told The Business Standard, "Earlier we planned a remedial package for learning losses. We will do it again if we get any new directives from the ministry."