Mathematics is not a strong suit of Saimum, a student at Uttar Char Manika Government Primary School in Bhola, but despite the weakness he got promoted to class IV in 2019.
The following year, he advanced to the next grade, thanks to auto-promotion prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Currently, Saimum is in class V but his struggle with maths continues.
Like Saimum, there are scores of students in the country who secured auto-promotion to the next class in 2020 although they are mainly weak in mathematics.
A recent survey by the National of Academy for Primary Education (NAPE) found that most class III students do not have adequate knowledge in mathematics.
It showed that an alarming 65% of students of class III do not even understand the concept of place value.
The survey titled "Weakness of Grade III students in mathematics: Causes and remedies" published in June 2020 was conducted among 400 students from 16 schools between September 2019 and February 2020 across eight upazilas in eight districts of eight divisions.
According to the survey, 58% of students failed to divide a three-digit number by a one-digit number, 62% of students could not identify the components in a division operation – dividends, divisors, quotients and remainders.
Only 31% of students could correctly identify the multiplicand, multiplier and product in a multiplication operation while 60% of students failed to solve word problems related to divisions.
By analysing the survey, it can be deduced that incompetency in basic language skills may have contributed to school students' weakness in mathematics, along with a lack of impactful teaching methods.
The survey recommends activity-based learning techniques, enhancing basic language skills and student-centred teaching aids to be incorporated in classrooms to help students overcome their weakness in mathematics.
Many of the current fifth graders, who were students of class III in 2019, do not possess adequate skills for the class they now are in, particularly because their school education had been heavily disrupted due to the global pandemic.
When the country went into shutdown in late March 2020 all educational institutions were closed. Many schools and colleges started online classes on a limited scale; and more than 3 crore students ranging from pre-primary to class IX got auto-promoted in 2020.
The auto-promotion in schools across the country proved to be particularly problematic for the learning process of students like Saimum.
"We promoted students like Saimum to the next classes to show them extra care" said Md Azad, an assistant teacher at Saimum's school.
"We took some classes in 2020. They are now out of our touch. We are worried and doubt they will return to class," Md Azad added.
The government took some initiatives like assignment evaluations for the secondary level education but failed to do it to equip primary students for higher classes.
Educationists say these students may have to experience and live with a learning gap throughout their academic life; and some may drop out of schools when the school's academic curriculum becomes all too overwhelming for them.
The experts think that the government's decision of exercising auto-promotion at the primary education level was a regrettable mistake, which will have a long-lasting impact on the students.
Professor Dr Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, told The Business Standard that the students suffered a learning gap in their classes in 2020.
"The students have a lack of essential learning, which needs to be remedied. Otherwise, we will not be able to ensure quality education," he said.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told TBS that ensuring quality education and building an educated future generation are a must to meet the demand of Sustainable Development Goals. If the primary students grow up with inadequate knowledge in mathematics, development in the grand scheme of things will be disrupted, he added.
"Different statistics showed that the Bangladeshi students are weak in mathematics. Guardians try to amend it by taking help from private tutors or coaching centres. But, this also stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to auto-promotion with inadequate knowledge in mathematics," he said.
The government needs to stress providing special care to primary school students to develop their foundational concept of mathematics, he further said.
A part of the problem is children's fear of learning maths, which seems to be prevalent worldwide, according to Md Nurunnabi Sohag, senior assistant secretary of the education ministry and also the project director of Bangladesh Math Olympiad.
But developed countries overcame the problem by teaching their children maths through interactive games as opposed to traditional math lessons.
In December 2020, the education ministry concluded a pilot project geared towards implementing the games method. The project titled "Increasing the competency of primary school students using the Math Olympiad method" received tremendous response.
"Basically we are trying to increase the capacity of students in solving maths as their expected level," Md Nurunnabi Sohag said.
The government has also already prepared a remedial learning strategy for all primary level students in a bid to help them recover from the learning gap caused by the closure of their schools due to the pandemic.
This strategy aptly named "Remedial Package" will also allow students to reach expected competencies in basic subjects.
Prof Narayan Chandra Saha, chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) told TBS, "The remedial package will cover some selected topics from all subjects in the syllabus for the primary students. The NCTB will submit the package to the primary and mass education ministry before the educational institutions reopen."