On September 8, the government directed the authorities concerned to take preparations for reopening primary schools. It is basically a green signal for reopening the primary schools across the country soon.
The decision of reopening schools is without a doubt a debatable one. We cannot say that it is a revolutionary idea since there is still a risk of Covid-19 infection. On the other hand, we cannot deny the importance of education and the problems caused by the closure of the schools.
The education sector is facing a tough time and getting affected by the pandemic just like any other sector.
According to data from Save the Children, around 10 million children may never return to school following the Covid-19 shutdown and 1.59 billion students worldwide and 1.2 million students in Bangladesh are facing a study gap due to the pandemic.
The closure of schools increased the rate of child marriage too. A study of the Gender Justice and Diversity Division of Brac showed that school closure is responsible for 71 percent of child marriage in 11 districts of Bangladesh.
The pandemic is harming the school-going students in every imaginable way.
"Around 5-10 percent primary level students in urban areas are getting online schooling amid the pandemic. Most of the rural area students are not taking part in online classes, while many do not even have access to the internet," said Din Mohammad Sumon Rahman, professor of the Department of Media Studies and Journalism (MSJ) of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).
In rural areas, schools could not find any way to conduct classes online. Lack of electricity and costly internet data are the main reasons behind this.
The latest 2020 data of HIES (Household Income and Expenditure Survey) showed that around 12.70 percent of the poor families do not have a single mobile phone. South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) estimated that 51.70 percent of the primary students' families could fall victim to poverty due to the pandemic.
For those families, buying smartphones or data packages and taking online classes have also become a kind of nightmare.
With these less privileged children not getting the facilities of online education, it will create inequality among the primary level students and most likely demotivate them from the study.
Emphasising on the fact that infection rates are much higher in urban areas than they are in rural areas, Professor Sumon Rahman feared that reopening of schools in cities or densely populated areas may lead to a disaster.
However, he believes that the decision of reopening schools will be the appropriate one for the primary school students in rural areas, who have been away from school since the beginning of the pandemic.
A report titled "Covid-19 and child labour: A time of crisis, a time to act", jointly written by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF, cited studies to state that a one percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 percent increase in child labour in certain countries.
Further school closure may increase child labour, numbers of school dropouts and cause many other problems in rural areas with many students staying away from their study for so long. The longer the closure last, the higher the percentage will be.
The pandemic is not over yet, the risk of contracting the virus is still there. If students go to the campus after being infected unknowingly, the virus will be spread to many.
Even a country like South Korea, with its praiseworthy success in fighting Covid-19, had to close more than 200 schools after a new spike in virus cases days after reopening them.
Keeping that in mind, if the government reopens some areas, they have to handle this matter in a very tricky way.
The government-issued press release that instructed authorities to make preparations for reopening primary schools also mentioned a plan of arranging the teaching of multiple classes in one shift or one day of the week.
The government's directive to school authorities was to follow at least 35 rules, including asking all teachers, staff, and students to wear masks, wash hands and follow all other hygiene rules considering the infrastructure of schools and the number of students.
Across the world, many reputed universities, schools and colleges are continuing their activities online. The University of Cambridge already confirmed that all "face-to-face lectures" will be moved to online during the next academic year.
In Bangladesh, the weak infrastructure denies the benefits of online education to many.