Exactly when educational institutions will be reopened is a matter still to be decided, with coronavirus continuing to take its daily toll with no sign of easing.
Against the backdrop of the virus-led shutdown of schools and universities for months, both the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Primary and Mass Education are drafting policies on how the academic losses would be recovered and students would be promoted to next classes.
But all those plans share a common prerequisite – the existing situation has to return to minimum normalcy.
Hoping for an improvement in the pandemic situation in September-October, the plans for the rest of two months of the academic year include holding classes maintaining health safety, allowing students to classes in turns, remapping the class and exam seating arrangements, shortening syllabus and suspending primary completion exams.
The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education has already decided to suspend this year's Primary Education Completion (PEC) Examinations and it is now waiting for the prime minister's consent.
The Junior School Certificate (JSC) and its equivalent examinations are also uncertain as the Bangladesh Examination Development Unit (Bedu) recommended not holding the exams if the ministry is unable to reopen schools before December.
But the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) and its equivalent exams will be held after the virus situation normalises.
There are 1.5 lakh educational institutions with 5 crore students from primary to higher education in the country. The students mostly remain out of their academic study since March 17 when the educational institutions were closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.
The government extended the closure multiple times to August 31, but it has been repeatedly saying that the schools and colleges will reopen only after the Covid-19 situation improves.
Meantime, Bangladesh has continued reporting 2,500-3,500 coronavirus cases with 30 to 40 deaths daily for last couple of months.
How a primary school would look like in post-pandemic period
According to the draft plan of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, schools must follow the health guideline strictly. The students will take part in the classes maintaining social distances.
If required, half of the students will attend a class and the rest will attend school next day.
Maximum two students will be allowed to sit on a bench, while previously five pupils used to share a bench.
The fourth graders will get the highest priority in post-pandemic classes. Each student must wear face mask and they will have to wash their hands by soap prior to attending classes.
School routine will be shrunk. School teachers and managing committee members will decide the rescheduled schooling time. The ministry will give an outline on what topics to get priority in classes.
If any important topic is not covered in class lecture due to shortened academic calendar, the topic will be included in next year classes.
The ministry will inform the teachers and school managing committees before 15 days of reopening so that the schools can be cleaned as they have already remained closed for a long time.
The students will neither be allowed to play on the field, nor gossiping on school premises. Emergency health services including ambulance service will be made available for immediate response.
Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education Md Akram-al-Hossain told The Business Standard that they would do everything necessary to ensure safety and good environment for the students.
"We are making the draft plan following the World Health Organisations (WHO), Unicef, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Ministry's guideline. We will apply it after reopening the schools," he said.
Director General of Directorate of Primary Education Md Fasiullh told The Business Standard that though they were not certain about a reopening date, they were taking preparation beforehand so that they could resume everything immediately after the situation becomes normal.
Separate plans for 60, 40 and 30 days
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has asked the National Curriculum Textbook Board (NCTB) to make a post-pandemic plan analysing the Bangladesh Examination Development Unit (Bedu) recommendations.
Bedu recommended that the syllabus be reduced if the secondary classes start in September, but the exam will be of 100 marks.
The ministry might hold exams in December but they would be of 50 marks with a short syllabus, the recommendation said.
It also mentioned that the exams can be taken as per the syllabus of the scholarship exams which were taken before JSC exams were introduced.
Bedu recommended the automatic promotion of students and that the uncompleted parts of the syllabus be included in next year's syllabus.
Following the Bedu's recommendations, the NCTB is going to make a draft recovery plan by shortening the syllabus and prioritizing important topics. It has already designed three 60-day, 40-day and 30-day plans.
The NCTB will recommend inclusion of some of the topics in new year classes since it will be impossible to touch the important topics in one-month plan.
NCTB Chairman Professor Narayan Chandra Shaha told The Business Standard that they would submit the proposal made in line with suggestions from experts and educationists to the education ministry soon.
Secretary (Secondary and Higher Education) of the education ministry Mahbub Hossain said they will take final decision after getting the plan from the NCTB. But the implementation would depend on coronavirus situation.
What about the public universities?
Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Dhaka University Professor Akhtaruzzaman told The Business Standard that they would emphasize health safety over reopening decision.
"We cannot ignore the reality. We have to think about the health risk. We will do everything in accordance with opinions from health experts," said the VC.
Shahjalal University of Sciences and Technology VC Professor Farid Uddin Ahmed said, "It is impossible to reopen the university just now. We are observing the situation."
Professor Farid said they have introduced online classes and are providing digital devices for the needy students to recover the academic losses.
Reopening now will not be a wise decision: Health experts
Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Professor Dr Kanak Kanti Barua said, "It will not be wise to reopen the educational institutions right now as it will not be possible to maintain health guidelines in schools. We need to wait on reopening decision."
Prime Minister's personal physician Dr ABM Abdullah also believes that following safety guidelines in school would be impossible.
"The virus could spread rapidly by the children. We will not suggest reopening the institutions now," he told The Business Standard.
Dropout will increase
Amid the pandemic-led shutdown, the government introduced online classes through the Sangsad Television and radio for the primary and secondary students from March 29. Some public and private universities are also holding online classes.
But the student turnout and quality of the classes still face questions.
Most of the students of primary and secondary level are not attending the classes as they do not have TV and internet connection.
A recent Brac study showed 56 percent students of the secondary level are not taking part in the online classes.
A large number of university students with no access to digital platforms are also out of the online classes.
Educationists believe that the dropout rate will increase if the educational institutions remain closed for an indefinite period.
The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education recently said that students who had shift from Dhaka and other cities to rural areas would be able to get admitted at any primary schools showing their textbooks.