According to a recent report, Bangladesh is tied with Venezuela for keeping schools closed for a record 61 weeks - the longest period in the world. On 3 September, the government announced that schools and colleges will reopen on 12 September, initially for a single day in a week. We asked students, parents, teachers and administrators how they feel about it.
'I'm very excited for September 12'
SSC Candidate, Rajbari Government Girls' High School
I am an SSC candidate. Our last class was about a year and a half ago. My friends and I planned, at the time, to fully enjoy our last school year (2020) together because we do not know where life will take us once we start different colleges. Alas, the coronavirus upended all our plans.
Our school was closed for all these months. For our whole tenth grade year, we did not have a single class (not online or offline). Online classes with private tutors did not work out since some of us didn't have the right devices or the internet connection.
And for some of us, the price of internet was too high.
This has been a very difficult time for us, the SSC examinees.
The pandemic was mostly a confusing time, riddled with uncertainties over how and when our exams will be held. My guardians would come up with new theories about exams almost every week.
Now, many of my friends have started studying college books. Should I do the same? We spend more time confused than studying.
Finally, schools are set to reopen on September 12. I am very excited. I would be able to spend time with my friends in school and take better preparation for the coming exams. Hopefully this is a lasting decision. But I am also worried about how a lot of our time has been wasted. I hope that measures are taken so that we can start our intermediate level education by completing the SSC exam very soon.
I am also very worried about examinations. We have not participated in any exams or classes for almost a year and a half. I hope exams will be held after taking the classes and preparing us properly.
'I will not send my children to school until they are vaccinated'
Parent of Motijheel Model School and College students
I am a homemaker, an author and a mother of two- Abdul Azim Sahir and Abdul Arsh Saihaan, who study in class six and class three of Motijheel Model School and College.
Though students are required to physically visit school once a week for now, many parents like me might not appreciate the decision.
It is scary for me as children are not vaccinated yet and there is no plan to do so. When schools will open, students will be exposed not only to their teachers but many others who can infect them with the virus.
With so many variants of Covid-19 emerging every now and then, I am not sure it is the correct time to reopen the schools.
In schools we won't be able to monitor our children's activities, to see if they are properly maintaining a Covid-19 safety measures. In my opinion it is a bad decision to open up the school without taking steps for children's vaccination. I will not send my children to school until there is a vaccine for them.
It is not only dangerous for the students; it will be a risk for the adults as well. Parents have to take their children to school and have to communicate with teachers and other parents. What if they carry the virus and infect anyone who has not taken any vaccine yet?
My children are concerned about the risk of exposure to the virus and they are happy meeting and talking to their friends online. As I was very cautious about the situation during the pandemic, my children are now concerned that they won't be able to maintain health guidelines properly at school, and they will bring the virus home and affect their grandparents.
I hope that the school will communicate with us soon.
'Do not overburden students with academic tasks'
Md. Zakir Hossain
Assistant Teacher, Moniza Rahman High School & College, Dhaka.
Teaching is a rewarding job because you get to see the hopeful faces of bright young learners everyday. But this has not been the case for the past one and a half years. So getting to attend classes offline will certainly be a celebratory occasion. But we must not get too carried away and impose burdensome lessons on the students to make up for lost time.
Schools and colleges need to consider the current mental state of these children. They need to socialise with their peers and rebuild connections with their teachers again. The reduced syllabus for SSC and HSC candidates will also help in this regard. Many students did not have access to the internet and could not attend online classes. Consequently, they may feel like they have fallen behind. Teachers, authorities and guardians need to be reassuring to them while providing intensive and personal care.
The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health should send inspection teams before the institutions finally open to ensure the implementation of the provided instructions. But this should not be an insurmountable problem as we had already prepared for this situation last year as per the direction of the ministry.
But educational institutions will have to rebuild their weakened infrastructures and replenish their educational equipment now. Especially for SSC and HSC candidates, who will have to attend practical examinations, replacing new lab equipment will be crucial. Some additional equipment also needs to be purchased as students can not share them like before.
'We are prepared since reopening dates were set before as well'
Dr Shahan Ara Begum
Principal, Motijheel Ideal School and College
Although we heard about the 12 September reopening of schools only on 4 September, we are still mentally prepared since the government had set reopening dates before too.
If we talk about preparations, we just had a meeting with the governing body on 6 September and we have a proper plan for class routines and health measures. As classes will be scheduled according to grades, we are working on preparing a class routine. And we want full cooperation from the parents.
We have set guidelines as well that include some instructions. Parents will send their children to school with masks, aprons, hand sanitiser and handkerchief. We will also have masks at school; if anyone in the family has flu, cough or any other symptoms, parents are strictly prohibited from sending their children to school; please don't gather outside the school while you drop your child; etc.
Our teachers have also been instructed to follow these. They have been instructed to wear masks and use hand sanitisers. There will be special Covid-19 prevention motivation sessions where they will teach students about the virus and how to prevent it. We are setting up hand wash basins at the entrance and on every floor and placing hand sanitisers in every class.
Schools and colleges are the most important places for every youngster and due to the pandemic, children are being deprived of that experience. So for me, opening schools and colleges is an important step. Now, it's our duty to make it Covid-19 safe for our students.
Are schools everywhere ready to meet this challenge?'
Dr Fakrul Alam
UGC Professor, and Director of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Research Institute for Peace and Liberty at Dhaka University
It is impossible to say with finality whether reopening schools is the correct decision. Let me say I am not going to be unhappy with the decision if all necessary steps are taken.
Classroom sizes have to be limited, social distancing maintained in and out of the classroom, hand washing and wearing masks enforced. And, of course, teachers and staff members have to be vaccinated.
But that is the challenge that has to be met. Are schools everywhere ready to meet this challenge? I certainly can't be confident about this.
But the alternative is too dismal to contemplate since the young ones have already lost over one and a half years of school and too many students and schools are in areas where virtual learning and blended learning are difficult practices to follow.
I know that school is not only classroom teaching but intermixing, socialising and making friends as well as playing games. In other words, everything one needs for total development. These surely are necessary things and not experiencing them for such a long time will no doubt cause some harm to students.
On another note, every year on this day, we observe International Literacy Day to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, as well as to advance the literacy agenda toward a more literate and sustainable society.
For us in Bangladesh, where so many people lack literacy skills and many, many more are barely literate, this should be thought of as a particularly important day for all of us. We have in Bangladesh a dismal literacy rate and Covid has made a bad situation worse for sure!
I'd like to encourage all thoughtful and caring citizens to do everything they can from where they are to help improve our overall literacy rate.