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500 days of school closure: How to repair the damage?

  • Published at 10:44 pm July 28th, 2021
Empty classroom
File photo of an empty classroom amid the pandemic Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Online classes bring new opportunities but many remain ‘offline’

The digital divide and social inequality among students have been widening while the school grounds and university campuses have remained empty for 500 days in a row in Bangladesh. 

Despite several drawbacks, online classes and other modes of distance learning helped students continue their studies. However, a dark cloud was cast on many who are not privileged enough to continue their studies. 

Many remained “offline” in this new normal education system. 

Educationists suggest that, to cope with the damage, the government should come up with a long-term plan and vaccinate teachers across the county.

The government shut down all educational institutions on March 16 last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. No physical classes have taken place at any educational institution since then.

The closure was extended several times, most recently until June 30 this year.

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Educationist Rasheda K Chowdhury said that the school closure had affected children disproportionately around the country, and that the policymakers needed to prepare a long-term plan for damage control.

“Distance learning has given the opportunity to continue education, but unfortunately not everyone can afford it this way. Many students dropped out of school due to poverty and lack of access to digital devices,” she told Dhaka Tribune. 

Since the Covid-19 situation is unprecedented for Bangladesh and nobody really knows how long it will take to resume in-person classes at schools, Rasheda Chowdhury thinks that the government should opt for long-term plans and allocate more incentives for the education sector.

“There are about 1.3 million teachers, whose safety should be a high priority before reopening the schools. The teachers in urban areas are taking vaccines,” she said. 

Classrooms in schools and colleges across Bangladesh have been locked like this since March 2020, as the government shut down physical attendance at all educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

According to a Unicef analysis, Bangladesh is the only country in South Asia and among the 14 countries globally that have kept schools fully closed amid the pandemic. 

Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a press statement in March: “We cannot afford to move into year two of limited or even no in-school learning for these children. No effort should be spared to keep schools open, or prioritize them in reopening plans.”

Nafiza Islam, assistance professor of management studies at Jahangirnagar University, thinks remote learning has brought a lot of challenges in the education sector and has also been preparing people to adapt to the technology, which is the future of education.  

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“As an educator, I have to deal with students from different socio-economic backgrounds and not everyone is privileged to submit assignments without any disruptions, attend online classes and examinations,” she told this correspondent.  

Parent of an 11-year-old boy, Nafiza observes that children who have the advantage of using electronic devices and an uninterrupted internet connection, are developing a habit of academic dishonesty. 

“Students at the tertiary level can cheat and bunk online lectures but eventually most of them make up for the missing classes as they are adults. The real problem is with the school children,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

Distance learning came with a set of problems for school kids, including playing games on electronic devices while the lecture is on, not being able to do any teamwork with their classmates, which makes them feel isolated and lose interest in studies, Nafiza added.  

On the bright side, people were making themselves adaptable to the digital learning and teaching space, she said.

Sabah Tasnia Rowshon, a lecturer at Southeast University, told Dhaka Tribune that both students and teachers had come a long way in terms of adapting to different kinds of online platforms and modules. However, there were a few challenges that could not be addressed. 

“In a traditional in-person classroom setting, the teacher has complete control of the classroom, but when 30 students are attending the class from 30 different parts of the country, it is difficult for us to be in charge,” she said.