Several non-government organisations (NGOs) involved with education in the country have stressed the need for reopening educational institutions, saying that a long school closure induced by Covid-19 had already caused learning losses for students and affected their mental health, and might lead to increased school dropouts.
It is crucial to reduce the learning losses and lower the potential dropout rate to build a better future generation, but there could be no compromise on a safe reopening of schools, they said at the launching ceremony of the "Safe Back to School (SB2B) campaign" at a city hotel on Wednesday.
Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni was present at the programme as chief guest, while Reefat Bin Sattar, director (Programme, Development and Quality) of Save the Children International Bangladesh, presented the keynote paper on the occasion.
"Despite enormous efforts made by the government and private schools, alternative teaching methods could not address accessibility for all students due to some practical barriers. The participation of all students in unconventional learning processes was not effective," the keynote paper read.
"The most worrisome consequence is that long-term school closure is associated with a higher risk of dropouts.
"Girls were found to be the most potential victims of dropout from education – brought in predominantly by the risk of child marriage. Some other impending determinants of dropouts include child labour, a reduced capacity in learning due to extended school closure, a transition from mainstream education to madrasas, and income drop in families."
Noting that the current state of students' mental health condition was one of the critical concerns, the keynote paper cited a recent study by World Vision Bangladesh which revealed that 55 per cent of children had expressed their unhappiness on having to stay home.
The keynote paper also quoted research conducted by Educo, which found that 42% of students had stated that life for them was getting to be more problematic.
"Therefore, the government should take effective measures to develop students' mental health after reopening the institutions," the keynote paper added.
In her comments, Education Minister Dipu Moni said, "We will not take any health risk for students and that is why we will reopen schools by ensuring the highest safety for them.
"We will work for the improvement of the mental health of students. We've started appointing at least one psychologist in each district; the psychologists will train teachers across the country," she said.
Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education; Sohel Ahmed, additional director general of the Directorate of Primary Education; Phedra Moon Morris, head of AID, Development Assistance of the High Commission of Canada; Veera Mendoca, deputy country representative of Unicef; and KAM Morshed, senior director of Brac, among others, spoke at the programme.
Professor Golam Faruk said, "The education ministry accords the highest priority to students' health. Secondly, we are thinking about their education. This is why we've trained one lakh teachers about nutrition, while 66,000 teachers will be given training on mental health."
The education minister and the DG of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education ruled out the possibilities of increased dropouts this year.
Recommendations to safe reopening of schools
Recommendations put forward by the NGOs with regard to a safe reopening of schools include imparting training to school teachers and staff on protocols related to Covid-19 infection prevention, instructing schools to increase shifts to have a reduced number of children in a classroom, setting up a hand-washing corner and ensuring proper sanitation at every school, ensuring proper logistics such as soap, disinfectants, first aid, masks, water supply for appropriate safety measures and allocating funds for them, increasing human resources for ensuring health and hygiene at every school and allocating separate budgets for them, introducing school-based screening of temperature and other Covid-related services for teachers and students.
The NGOs also asked for conducting a month-long re-enrollment procedure, disbursing all due stipends before enrollment and reopening of schools in order to gain parents' confidence.
They further recommended supporting the most marginalised groups, including children with disabilities, expanding coverage of school feeding programmes, running separate awareness campaigns for bringing girl children back to school, building awareness among communities and families about the risk of child marriage, child labour and the need for education, introducing attractive co-curricular activities in schools to reduce mental trauma among students and developing basic guidelines on mental health wellbeing for students and building teachers' capacity so that they can provide essential mental health support to their students. ***