Impact of the Covid pandemic on education in the time of pandemic: A story from Mongla
Like the rest of Bangladesh, the 48 schools and colleges of Mongla Port Municipality have been closed since March 17, the day the government declared the closure of all educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, putting a halt to the learning process of thousands of children residing in the municipality and the adjacent rural areas and Upazila of Mongla. Recently, the authorities advised that the education institutes might remain closed even up to September if the situation does not improve till then.
The private educational institutions in cities like Dhaka and Chittagong are taking classes through online platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, etc. NGOs and other organizations are introducing Tele-Counseling, Tele-learning, distant learning and so on to keep the communication with their students in progress.
But unlike developed countries, most children in Bangladesh do not have access to the internet. Platforms used by online learning are often hampered due to weak network problems. Moreover, relying on mobile data makes learning comparatively expensive.
This is why, as television sets are more widely available in households, the initial education response by the Bangladesh government focused on delivering classes on TV, by broadcasting classes for the primary and secondary level school children through the national television.
Shaheen Mia, a van puller, is aware of the government initiative of introducing classes on TV, but he cannot access them as his family cannot afford a TV. He is in anxiety and stress about the future of his family for his income loss and his son’s education.
Shahid Hawladar, a government officer at the Mongla Upazila office, and a stakeholder in the Climate-Induced Migration project (conducted by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) under the support from PROKAS-British council) admitted challenges with TV and online education.
He explained that even for dedicated students, remote learning is often a challenge for the short duration of transmission and lack of social interaction on television. When asked about the prospect of online classes in Mongla, Hawladar added that the students and their parents there are not habituated with homeschooling.
Since the students and guardians are not tech-literate, there will likely be substantial disparities between families in the extent to which they could help their children's learning. Even under normal conditions, the primary school dropout rate in Bangladesh is high. Recurring natural hazards like cyclones and floods contribute to the disruption of education caused by lengthy and unscheduled school closure.
The panic, uncertainty and the socio-psychological impact due to the ongoing global pandemic in present times will be acting as a catalyst to increase the chances of inequality in the learning process. People are facing financial uncertainties and social pressure which will also act as a blockage for an ideal learning environment.
The overall learning and assessment process is also highly disrupted by the crisis. Students preparing to take the JSC (Junior School Certificate) exams after grade eight this year are most troubled. Most of them are continuing their preparation at home during this lockdown, some with the help from home tutors.
The results of the public examination like SSC has been declared. With the workplaces open, schools and colleges have started the official work and online procedure of admission with a skeleton staff. There are concerns among the HSC students about their future. who were to sit for their board examination from April 1.
Meanwhile, things have turned out even worse for some private and kindergarten schools like Fatema Child Kindergarten, which teaches up to grade five. The teachers are concerned over their monthly salaries and the absence of private tuition that they had been practising off the working hours.
The effect of this long-term closure will have a negative toll on the future of the children and youth. Mongla already faces dropout of young boys and girls for seasonal fishing activities, and availability of work in EPZ. The longer marginalized children will be out of school, the less likely they are to return.
Considering the present scenario, the risk of long-time closure of educational institutions versus the emergency of lockdown has become a big dilemma. The CIM project aims for a long-term strategy to deal with the predicted rural-to-urban migrations due to climate change through education as a key adaptation strategy.
By both educating the youth in rural areas, as well as creating new job opportunities in provincial towns, the project aims to stimulate a ‘transformative adaptation’ for the future climate migrants. Keeping the present Covid-19 pandemic situation and the future climate change crisis in mind, the top priority should be identifying a systematic exit plan by limiting the interruption to give school- aged children a sense of normalcy back as quickly as possible and continuing the formal education, in regional towns like Mongla through alternative learning pathways.
Sumaiya Binte Anwar is a Research Officer at ICCCAD working in the Urban Resilience Programme. She is a Civil Engineer and a Climate enthusiast. She can be reached at [email protected]
Nafis Fuad is working in ICCCAD as Research Officer and his main research interest is in urban climate resilience and development.He can be reached at [email protected]