I used to get excited over every new toy that came in the local market during my childhood. I would push my parents to buy those toys and spend my days with them until I found a new toy and felt that the earlier toy was not good enough anymore.
I see the reflection of my childhood in the education sector of Bangladesh. Both the ministries have been giving a lot of suggestions and plans every month. Sometimes, they prioritise over-phone learning support; sometimes, they prioritise learning through television and radio. But at the end of the day, they have commitment issues just like I had with my toys.
The Primary and Mass Education Ministry has recently started promoting worksheets. Providing worksheets has recently become a trend. But a few teachers like me have been working on developing worksheets and paper-based distance learning since last July.
Based on the definition by Oxford Learners' Dictionary, the worksheet is a piece of paper with a series of questions and exercises for students. So, worksheets are classroom supplements. Teachers take a direct class and then provide worksheets to students for practicing as well as evaluating them.
The purpose of the worksheet was never to teach or deliver learning guidelines. The worksheets developed by this definition actually suit the scenarios where both teachers and students are in synchronous space.
Now, all this seems fine until we realise that we are not in classrooms anymore. Our schools have been closed for a very long time. So, worksheets should not be limited to only exercises. There should be scaffolding, child-interactive contents, processes, and examples of what children are expected to do while completing the worksheets and many more.
If you are serious about worksheets, you need to consider that you are taking a classroom to some paper sheets and making that interesting for the children. This requires training, planning, designing, and discussions with experts. You can not get this expertise overnight.
I, personally, would like to congratulate the Primary and Mass Education Ministry for considering worksheets as an alternative approach. If pizzas can reach every doorstep, why not education? But teachers are not delivery guys. I cannot run to 86 (the number of students in my class) houses every week. Instead, I have created some drop points where I keep worksheets and students/parents collect them.
Later, they deliver it again on the drop point, and I collect them while also sharing new worksheets. So, this is efficient for both my students and me. But the ministry has not given this ecosystem an actual thought. Another common scenario is that many parents or home tutors solve the worksheets instead of the students. These actions might create a pseudo picture of success in front of us, underneath which will be mountains of a learning gap.
A USAID-funded assessment in the spring of 2018 reported that around 44% of the first graders could not even read their first word. We could have expected that the learning gap might mitigate in the next grade as the contents are correlated in a normal time.
But now, the picture is different. After completing grade 1 and attending no assessments of grade 2, students who left school are now expected to achieve competencies of grade 3. How will worksheets work if your students cannot even read?
But why are we facing these challenges? Again, I must go back to my childhood. I never considered the necessity of the toys. I never felt whether this was an appropriate option or whether my parent's economic condition supported them to buy those toys.
I only cared about moving with the trend. I feel like this is also happening with primary education now. From taking online classes to sending SMS, there were several approaches but not any that were well-researched.
It has been one year since schools were closed. Till now, there have been no clear, long-lasting guidelines about teachers' protocols in this pandemic time. The problem with those decisions is that they barely consist of opinions from the field level.
Teachers are supposed to continue the learning support and everything. They also need to visit students' homes and teach them every day. But, they have never been treated as front-liners. They barely got recognition while taking the vaccine.
Eventually, no one discusses the outcome if any of those teachers working for community learning support becomes Covid-19 positive? On one side, the teacher might infect the students, and on the other, the teacher's own family will face the consequences. Have we ever recognised these factors? Are our teachers ready or motivated to walk through the community?
I never considered my parent's opinion when I was buying toys. But they were the ones who could determine if those toys were appropriate for me. While growing up, I realised that my parents knew, almost every time, what was the best choice for me. Government Primary School Teachers and Head Teachers are like my childhood parents. They are the ones who can state and analyse the real community scenarios. But I didn't care about my parents' opinion while demanding toys, did I?
Shadman Absar Choudhury is an educator and assistant teacher from J. Bottoli Government Primary School and a fellow from Teach For Bangladesh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.