• Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

OP-ED: A case for reopening educational institutions

  • Published at 01:14 am May 9th, 2021
A health worker sprays disinfectant in a classroom at the Anula school, in the suburb of Nugegoda in Colombo on June 19, 2020

How lockdowns present an opportunity for the education sector

A couple of months back, a campaign called “Safe Back to School” strongly urged the reopening of schools. The campaigners presented statistics on school days lost, children’s mental well-being, etc.

The minister of education was present during the launch of the campaign, and she pragmatically shared the government’s stance on opening educational institutions. In the first two months of this year, the campaigners were very active on social media and other platforms. The Ministry of Education later agreed to open educational institutions in May 2021.

But suddenly, we are now experiencing the second wave of the pandemic. The government has declared lockdown again to tackle the situation. Health experts anticipate that the current trend may continue up to the May-June period and it may push back the opening of educational institutions.

In fact, educational institutions have been closed since the advent of Covid in March 2020. In the meantime, we have seen both government and non-government educational institutions try to offer online classes for students. Certainly, there are questions about the quality of online classes, but I am surprised to see that campaigners have become quiet; it seems they are also waiting for better times to restart their campaign.

Honestly, we cannot anticipate a proper time when schools can go back to the pre-Covid era, so we should concentrate on making them “Covid sensible,” especially by refurbishing existing wash facilities and making a culture of good hygiene practices.

I had the opportunity to attend events and roundtables with educationists, physicians, policy-makers, and students, and found that everyone has been giving importance to proper preparedness before reopening schools, and also emphasizing investment to ensure hygiene and other measures to make up for the lost time. The government was urged to offer stimulus packages for the education sector. 

There are some areas we have to focus on, and it depends on collective effort from the government, non-government and corporate organizations, communities, and students. Below are some of the recommendations to make educational institutions ready for reopening:

The government has committed to offer vaccination for all those engaged in education facilities; now we have to assess how much progress we have made. At the same time, we need to think about setting up screening facilities to track the health status of students, teachers, and other education officials.

We have to properly plan for the students in each class, and rotation-wise classes could be taken to avoid mass gatherings. 

There is no argument about the importance of repairing and retrofitting existing wash facilities. The current pandemic reemphasizes the importance of having clean and healthy wash facilities in all educational institutions. 

In the last one year, students of all ages experienced online/virtual class facilities, but the time has come to rethink the quality and effectiveness of the study curriculum. We have to admit that virtual teaching has become an integral part of our education system, and now think of how to make a smart way of blended education.

I cannot deny the mental well-being of the students as they could not meet their friends, missed days of playing together or even passing time together. The concerned authorities should think about recreational items for students to connect with each other and enable them to share their feelings with their fellow classmates or teachers in a positive way. Now, we are living in an era of advanced communication, so it just requires insightful thinking to introduce something that would ensure students’ well-being. 

Raising mass awareness through setting “geo-bubble educational facilities;” education authorities should engage guardians, communities, and students in the process of making educational institutions safe and secure. This should be a continuous process and corporate sector, civil society agencies, and communities could extend support. I believe even if the government opens educational institutions, there would be anxiety and fear of physical attendance among the guardians and students.

I was reading the other day that public health experts identified two reasons for the current hike of the virus in Bangladesh: One is overpopulated marketplaces and the second one is public transport. So, we have to start thinking about ensuring healthy and safe transportation of our students.

As said before, we need collective effort from all to ensure a healthy and safe environment for students, teachers, and educationists, and should not look only into government effort. We need to focus on making educational institutions ready with appropriate hand-washing facilities, ensuring proper messages of hygiene practice, and trying to create a culture of good health and hygienic behaviour to protect the generations from this loss of physical access to education. So, we have to accept the current lockdown as a good opportunity for better preparedness.

Syed Matiul Ahsan is a development consultant.