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Covid-19: Over 45% secondary school students may drop out

  • Published at 05:23 pm August 7th, 2020
File photo of students in a class room Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Government as well as educational institutions have taken a few initiatives to help the students to continue their education amid the Covid-19 crisis

More than 45% of the secondary-level students in the country will not return to schools, if they reopen after the Covid-19 shutdown ends on August 31, experts fear. 

The dropout rate is likely to increase even more, if the pandemic continues for a longer period, they say. 

According to a 2019 report of Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), there are 10.34 million students at the secondary level in the country, of whom 53.83% are female. 

The current dropout rate stands at 36% at the secondary level.  

There could be a significant rise in the number of dropouts in the educational institutions as poverty is in reverse trend due to the pandemic. Students will get involved in generating income rather than getting education if the schools remain closed. 

The South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) has done research over the issue.

Eshrat Sharmin, a fellow at Sanem, who presented a paper at a discussion recently held in Dhaka, said: “Poverty rate will impact the youths, especially the students, as there may be a surge in the dropout rates.”

“Dropout rates will undoubtedly increase in Bangladesh and can reach more than 45%, if classes do not start in this academic year. The rate will increase even more if the pandemic continues,” said Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, a veteran academic and a professor at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. 

“Many guardians losing their jobs, especially in the informal sector, is the main reason behind the dropouts,” he added. 

Rashida K Chowdhury, former adviser to the caretaker government and also executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said: “Many students got involved with work to earn money and survive during the pandemic. Moreover, child marriage is increasing nowadays as teenagers are being forced to get married due to poverty.

“As the poverty rate will upsurge, so will the dropout rate. However, there is no survey yet to say how many students are going to dropout,” she added.

Also Read - Bangladesh plans to reopen schools combining online, offline education

Will online class reduce dropout?

The government and various educational institutions have taken a few initiatives, including televised lessons and online classes, to help the students to continue their studies amid the crisis.

The state-run Sangsad Bangladesh Television began airing pre-recorded lessons for primary school students on April 5. 

However, the availability of remote learning facilities to every student across the country still remains a real challenge.

“Though many countries are operating online classes, it is still not possible in Bangladesh due to limitation of logistics, inadequate training and slow internet speed. We have to physically go to school once the infection rate decreases,” Professor Emeritus Sirajul Islam Chowdhury told Dhaka Tribune.

“If we cannot resume the schools within this academic year, not only the dropout rate will increase but a whole generation may suffer,” he added.

What’s the solution?

Dropout can be prevented only by special measure on part of the government, according to the experts.

Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, who is also a former professor of Dhaka University, said: “We should first do a survey to identify the vulnerable students for Covid-19. School teachers and NGOs should be engaged in the survey to find the solutions, instead of councillors or local politicians.

“Susceptible students can be paid an amount of money, like Tk 300-400 per month, which will encourage them to continue to study under a stimulus package. Secondly, they can be provided with a meal every day, which India has already started. Thirdly, the listed students can be given laptops with internet facility for doing online class as the pandemic continues,” he added.

“But unfortunately, the government is not taking any initiatives for the students,” he further said. 

“A survey is important to examine the real situation of the education sector and to solve the problem,” said Rashida K Chowdhury.

“We are preparing to conduct a survey across the country to identify the root causes of the dropouts,” she added.

What the Education Ministry says

Mahbub Hossain, secretary of the Secondary and Higher Education Division, said it was “unfortunate for us that some of our honourable education experts want to create panic.” 

“The educational institutions have not resumed operation yet. How can they project how many students will drop out?” he asked.

“According to all indicators, including poverty rate, remittance and export, Bangladesh is still in a good position compared to other countries with similar crises,” he added.

Moreover, he denied all the reasons for dropout as they have taken several initiatives against it, including televised lessons and online classes.

“However, it is true that students are suffering for the institutes being closed. If the situation does not improve by August, we will introduce some alternatives which are now in the planning stage,” he added.