Study hours of primary and secondary-level students have declined by 80 percent since educational institutions were closed amid Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study by the Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).
"There has been a significant reduction in students' total study time — from 10 hours to merely 2 hours a day. This is alarming," the BIGD said in its report published at a webinar on Thursday.
Research Interns at the BIGD surveyed over 5,000 students from urban slums and rural regions across the country.
Dr Niaz Asadullah, professor of economics at the University of Malaya, who presented the key findings of the study, said with schools closed all across the country, one would intuitively think that the time students used to spend in classrooms would now be devoted to self-studying.
But findings from the study show that there has been a significant decline in the number of hours students spend in self-study since their schools were closed, she added.
"Different remedial measures for virtual learning to make up for the lost school hours have not been much effective either," she added.
The study shows that only 16 percent of students watch educational programmes like "Ghore Boshe Shikhi" and "Amar Ghorey Amar School" on television. Moreover, a large percentage of the small numbers of students who watch these educational TV programmes do not find those helpful.
The percentage of students watching educational programmes on the internet is even lower — just 1 percent.
Alongside making this alarming revelation about the decline in students' study hours, the BIGD report shows that there has been a sharp rise in child labour during this pandemic time.
Findings suggest that after schools were shut down, the percentage of children who spend more than two hours a day working for the family's economic needs has increased from 4 percent to 16 percent.
Besides, the percentage of children who work 2 hours or more a day doing household chores has also increased from 1 percent to 13 percent.
Though these findings are primarily from rural areas, students in urban slums also present a similar picture.
Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BIGD, Brac University, said, "Our country's core strength has always been community-based innovative approaches and therefore we must utilise this strength to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic - be it in designing social protection programmes or in generating digital innovations in education.
"We must consider handholding approaches or community-based hybrid approaches enabled through NGO-based initiatives and government policies to drive digital innovations in the education sector, and tackle first-generation learner constraints that are present in rural households of Bangladesh."
He also underscored the importance of education to keep the nation's young minds sharp and the necessity of evidence-based policies to address this crisis and minimise the negative impact that months of school closure due to Covid-19 can have on education, learning, and future earning potential.
Dr Niaz Asadullah said, "The learning landscape in terms of time spent in studying by children in Bangladesh, has collapsed from 10 hours to 2 hours. Rural children are now spending double the time behind household chores.
"However, the rise in time dedicated to non-learning activities is not enough to compensate for the collapse in time dedicated to learning activities. In fact, 6 hours or 50 percent of waking hours after school closure was found 'unaccounted for' by our research. In our next phase of the research, we will further delve deep into this issue."
The education system in Bangladesh has always struggled to ensure quality education for 40 million children enrolled in schools, he said, adding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this learning crisis as all educational institutions across the country have been closed for over two months with no immediate plans for reopening.
Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE); Prof Dr Syed Md Golam Faruk, Director General of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education; Dr Shafiqul Islam, director of BRAC's Education Programme; and Dr Mohammad Mahboob Morshed, assistant professor of the Brac Institute of Educational Development (BIED) also spoke at the webinar as panelists.
The webinar was moderated by BIGD Executive Director Dr Imran Matin.