Educationists believe a centralised strategy is an absolute necessity as is a plan to resume academic activities by following strict health guidelines to recover students' learning losses caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Only physical classrooms can effectively check the dropout rate since online academic activities have already created a digital divide between urban and rural students, they said at a webinar on Wednesday.
"The Covid-19 infection rate may decrease by 5% in February next year. So, the government has three months to prepare a plan for the whole education system in order to recover the losses," said Dhaka University Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof ASM Maksud Kamal at the webinar organised by The Business Standard.
"Our education system comprises teachers, students, classrooms and extra-curricular activities; and online education is not an alternative to the face-to-face learning process. Thus, the government must find a way to bring students back to the classes.
"If we turn our 12-month academic year into a 10-month one or a 6-month semester into a 4-month one, we might be able to recover the learning losses and ensure quality education," he added.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Manzoor Ahmed said, "The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated learning losses in the country. At the same time, discrimination among the rich and poor students has also increased.
"Many students are facing difficulties in getting proper education as a result.We have to think now about what we should do to bridge the learning gap if the situation becomes normal in the coming days."
"But we do not see any initiative to curb the discrimination in the overall segments," he added.
Prof Ahmed further said, "Actually, the discrimination cannot be reduced without the intervention of teachers. So, academic activities in educational institutions must be restarted by any means necessary.
"It will be tough to reopen all schools in conditions akin to a normal situation, but the government must come forth with a massive plan in this regard," he said, adding, "We do not know the actual Covid-19 statistics in the country. That is why it is a big challenge to make the plan for urban and rural areas."
Meanwhile, a former teacher at the Institute of Education and Research under Dhaka University, Prof Siddiqur Rahman, said, "Primary and secondary level students cannot learn without cooperation from the teachers.
"At present, learning is continuing online, but it is just a supplement to learning at schools. The government could not reach all the students through the online learning initiative. As a result, many students still remain out of schooling."
He further said, "We must think about these students, and the government must take an appropriate decision and formulate a strategy in this regard. I do not support the auto-promotion of students. No student should be promoted without adequate learning.
"If we fail to do this, we will face big problems in the future.The teachers will have to take more initiatives to bring the students back to classes. Students will also need special care after rejoining their classes."
Stating that it is not wise to give results without the HSC exams, Prof Rahman questioned, "How will the universities take admission tests when the government did not take the HSC exams?"
Prof Rahman added, "The education ministry has to take up a plan to reopen educational institutions while maintaining health guidelines. Everything has resumed operations, except the educational institutions. We must avoid such a line of thinking."
The Director General of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, Prof Dr Syed Golam Faruk, said, "The ministry is trying to tackle the situation. But we acknowledge that our attempts are not enough.
"We cannot deny that many students are now out of schooling. In the char areas, only 60% of students are able to watch the lectures aired on Sangsad TV."
He added, "Actually, we are trying to empower students so that they can learn by their own capacity. We have launched assignment evaluations for our secondary level students. We will be able to determine the learning gap within December.
"We are compelled to keep the educational institutions closed as public health experts say the time has not yet come to reopen them.We are thinking about reopening some educational institutions where the Covid-19 infection rate is zero in January or February next year."
The director general continued, "We could not provide digital devices and facilities to every student. We have a plan to provide such devices to the students, but it will require a huge amount of money."
Executive Editor of The Business Standard Sharier Khan, who moderated the webinar, said a centralised strategy is a must to overcome and recover the learning losses in the education sector.
"The students are facing tremendous psychological pressure. Emotional and social pressure are also high. So it will be difficult for the students to recover from their learning gap after the educational institutions reopen," he said.