In these challenging times, we are all navigating through uncertainty for ourselves, our loved ones and our entire community. People from all walks of life are suffering, we all are indeed in this together.
But Coronavirus is not a great leveller, we are not suffering the same. While many have received support, some others have remained overlooked and helpless. The teachers and staff of private educational institutions are such a group.
According to BANBEIS 2018 data, 19,866,645 students are taught by 824,392 teachers in private academic institutions. They constitute about 66% of the teaching force of the country. With support staff, this number will be 1 million.
This highly qualified group of shy professionals are now suffering silently as their regular income has ceased coming in. Most of 108,113 private institutions have not been able to pay their teachers and support staffs. These include institutions of Bangla medium, English medium and madrassa. Only a few have paid salaries for the month of March, in full or in part.
Now with Covid-19 cases spiking, many fear we are in for the long haul. Our Honourable Prime Minister has also expressed the apprehension that educational institutions may be closed until September.
It is only May. This situation has left teachers riddled with the worry of failing to meet their families' most basic needs. Most of these institutions depend on fees collection which is the only source of revenue.
Due to the long shut-down, parents are finding it difficult to pay the school fees. Schools are refraining from pressurising parents on humanitarian grounds. Moreover, most private schools are burdened with a hefty house rent.
Having to look for ways to survive under lockdown, with no clue for how long, is even more devastating than the uncertain future that faces them.
The only solution to the problem is the government stepping in and standing by our educators. The government should declare a stimulus package as it has for garments factories, and ensure the salary of these people amid shut-down.
The implementation of this package is a question of life-or-death for the teachers. The agreement will require schools to pay off the loan when they are back in operation. This will help preserve the private sector academic institutions that teach 54 percent of the total student population of Bangladesh, and above all protect our teachers.
We have to understand that education is the backbone of our nation. Our dream of a developed Bangladesh depends on how well we educate our youth. If we don't save our teachers and the academic institutions, how will we ever achieve those goals?
This is a wakeup call. Coronavirus can destroy the private education industry that took decades to stand on its feet. If we let it collapse now, it will take decades to build up again.
Let's save the teachers, let's save our education industry.
The author is Principal of The New School Dhaka