- Education sector hardest hit during pandemic
- Pandemic causes massive layoffs, school closures
- Education of 15 lakh pre-primary kids in hot water
- Many school children have turned breadwinners
- Poor parents unwilling to send their children back to school
- Banbeis did not allow research in learning losses
- Experts criticise lack of government initiative
The education sector is among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic that led to the closure of educational institutions across the country.
But there is no government research in learning loss, no initiative to address the achievement gap and keep school dropouts at bay.
Pandemic-driven poverty has forced a great many school-going children into shouldering the responsibility of being breadwinners for their families. They are unlikely to return to school.
Similarly, the pandemic has caused massive layoffs at private schools, many of which have shuttered their academic activities, battered as they have been by the pandemic, with many others following suit.
This year a lot of students will attend their new classes with their inadequate knowledge through auto promotion, but the authorities lack adequate data about addressing all these issues.
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education and National Academy for Primary Education (Nape) conducted only two surveys on the participation of students in academic programmes hosted by radio and television only.
A source at the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (Banbeis) and National Academy for Primary Education said the bodies had been planning to conduct research on learning loss faced by the students and find out the actual state of learners across the country, but the Ministry of Education and the Primary and Mass Education Ministry did not allow this to happen.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Nape official told The Business Standard that a proposal had been made to conduct such research in October, but the authorities concerned asked them to stay away from it.
"Nape is the only institution which does research in an objective manner. It would have been possible to get to know the actual situation. Now the government has no data," he said.
Asked for his comments, Md Osman Bhuiyan, director of Banbeis, told TBS Banbeis was planning to do some research about the learning loss incurred by the students due to Covid-19, but it would take a minimum of six months to get the result.
Countries in Europe and America have taken up many plans to overcome their students' achievement gap in the wake of the pandemic.
Even the Ministry of Education in India has urged all state authorities to conduct comprehensive door-to-door surveys to identify children out of school and prepare an action plan to prevent dropout, lower enrollment and loss of learning.
Education experts have been harshly critical of the lack of a government initiative to address the learning loss of students and check the school dropout factor.
They said it was impossible to gauge the damage already done without any meaningful research being undertaken.
Brac University Professor Emeritus Manzoor Ahmed told TBS, "I made a proposal last May to form district- and upazila-wise committees comprising representatives of all communities to check school dropouts and estimate learning loss."
"I also suggested that the government allocate funds in this regard, but the authorities neither paid heed nor took any initiative either, which is very unfortunate."
The academic said the government had been urged to increase the amount of stipend to poor students and provide their families with financial support, but the education ministry had ignored the suggestion.
Talking to some schoolteachers, TBS came to know that school authorities were trying to bring all their students back to school, but many had already become engaged in earning for their families, were reluctant to continue with their studies and had relocated elsewhere.
The situation is dire for pre-primary education as the education of about 15 lakh pre-primary kids in private schools is feared to be disrupted, with many kindergartens facing permanent closure due to the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Quality pre-primary education is a must to properly prepare children for the next stages of their education, which equips them with the knowledge and talent a nation of skilled citizens requires. A failure to provide this education will have long-term consequences, according to experts.
ASM Abdul Khaleq, Jashore district education officer, said the authorities were supervising online classes, but they did not work on re-enrolment and checking dropouts.
"We did not get any instruction from the government to identify dropouts. We are doing our routine job only," he said.
Meanwhile, the government has no data about one crore kindergarten students as such institutions are operating without the intervention or supervision of the government.
Kindergarten owners think that a good number of students might drop out as about 2,000 schools had already been closed while more than 10,000 could follow suit.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary general of Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, said the association had no data on how many students were in a vulnerable situation.
"It is not possible for us to conduct research either in this regard," he added.
However, Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, claimed that the DSHE was working to check the dropout rate.
He acknowledged that there had been no research on learning loss and school dropouts.
"I do not see that there is any possibility of massive dropouts as 90% of students are connected with schools," he said.