Chehel Gazi Shiksha Niketan High School and College in Rangpur Sadar has 117 students in class X, but on Wednesday only 45 students took part in the class. Only 103 students out of 252 students of class IX were present on the same day.
As a result, 38% and 42% students were in classes X and IX respectively in the school after 10 days of the reopening of educational institutions, which had been closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Education ministry data shows that students' presence was above 60% a few days after the reopening of educational institutions across the country, but it has since dropped.
Mokbul Hossain, Principal of Chehel Gazi Shiksha Niketan High School and College, told The Business Standard that many students and their families have shifted to other places and a good number of the students are not coming to institution by citing various causes.
"We have been trying to bring students back to the institution. And that is why we are continuously communicating with the guardians over phone and also physically," he said.
Majiara Government Primary School located in Tala upazila of Satkhira district has 24 students in class V, but on Wednesday only 10 students attended classes.
Chandidas Hajra, head teacher of the school, told TBS that the students' presence has decreased in the last two days.
These are two examples to show that students' presence in the schools is below 50% away from the cities. The presence is about 70-75% in city schools and colleges. A TBS team visited 20 primary and secondary schools across the country to collect information on the subject.
Teachers said they have been observing that many students may have dropped out as they have not come to the schools for submitting assignments, have not communicated with the teachers and filled in forms for the Secondary School Certificate and Higher Secondary School Certificate examinations 2012.
Dr Shahan Ara Begum, principal of Ideal School and College, Motijheel, told TBS that in pre-covid-19 pandemic times students' presence was 90% on average at her institution. But now 70-75% students have been attending classes on average since the reopening of the educational institutions.
"We have been working to create awareness among the guardians and also the students about their schooling. We will try our level best to have all students come back to classes," she said.
Professor Md Amir Hossain, director (Monitoring and Evaluation Wing), told TBS that the department has been compiling data coming in from around the country.
Experts for taking immediate action
Education experts have suggested that the government take immediate measures to increase students' presence at schools and to check for possible dropout rates.
Professor Dr Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, told TBS that the government should initiate an immediate survey and take up a long-term plan to have absentee students come back to the schools.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has hit our economy and other organs of the country. Many families are in economic shock and they will force their children into child labour and early marriage. The government must focus on these issues," he said.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Manzoor Ahmed told TBS that educationists had recommended identifying the possible drop out students since the pandemic hit the country. But the government is yet to take any initiative in this regard. We have even recommended forming upazila-level committees and making lists of students who were at a high risk of dropping out, but to no avail.
"I have been saying that the government should provide school meals to all students to prevent dropouts. But now the meals have totally stopped. We have also asked for an allocation of at least Tk 5 crore for each upazila and provision of financial help as well to families of poor students so they do not discontinue their children's education," he said.
School-feeding programme behind poor presence
A suspension of the school-feeding programme is threatening to increase malnutrition and the dropout rate among more than 31 lakh students in impoverished areas across the country.
Children of more than 15,000 primary schools have not been getting cooked meals or vitamin-enriched biscuits, which they used to get under the programme, for the last two months.
During the pandemic, teachers delivered biscuits to students' homes until funds ran out. The primary and mass education ministry is yet to get money from the finance ministry to continue the programme, extended for the fifth time from July to December this year.
Golam Hasibul Alam, secretary of the mass education ministry, said it was yet to begin activities, after the time extension, owing to a lack of funds. "Hopefully, we will soon start meal distribution in schools," he said.
Number of printing of books decreases
Distribution of free textbooks this year has decreased.
Last year, the government distributed 35.93 crore books from pre-primary to secondary level. This year, the Education Ministry is going to print 35.16 crore books; as a result, the distribution will be77 lakh books fewer in the absence of the students at schools.
Private schools going through bad times
About 15,000 private schools and kindergartens with 25 lakh students across Bangladesh went broke owing to the pandemic fallout. The reopening on 12 September bears no meaning for them.
Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, told TBS that there were 60,000 kindergartens with around 1 crore students and 10 lakh teachers and staffers before the pandemic.
He said the remaining 45,000 kindergartens that managed to reopen now face as low as a 60% student turnout while regular attendance rate had been 90%-95% on average.
"Many of our students moved to their ancestral villages with their families, some became child labourers while many girls got married," he noted.
He said the institutions have also been facing severe teacher shortages as half of the teachers have switched to other professions.
Prof Syed Golam Faruk, director-general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told TBS that the authorities are working to increase students' presence in schools and colleges across the country. "The education ministry will take all possible initiatives to make students come back to the educational institutions," he said.