As a number of national and international reports have revealed, the impacts of Covid-19 on primary and secondary level students in Bangladesh (and in many other countries of the world) will be massive as school dropout rate could increase due to the prolonged school closure, which may eventually lead to an increase in child marriage and child labour. A recent Save the Children report put Bangladesh among 28 countries where children are at moderate or high risk of dropping out of school while "girls are at increased exposure to gender-based violence and risk of child marriage."
According to the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE), the dropout rate in primary education was 49.3 percent in 2008, which came down to 17.9 percent last year. It is, therefore, concerning to learn that all the successes attained in recent years by the government and non-government organisations to check the dropout rate may be lost due to the impact of the pandemic. Sadly, an increase in child marriage is already visible across the country. According to Manusher Jonno Foundation, 462 girls were victims of child marriage in June this year while the number was 170 in May. The reasons for the increase, as described by the NGO, included a lack of monitoring by local government authorities amid the pandemic, closure of schools, social insecurity, poverty, etc. Several other surveys conducted by the government and non-government organisations also painted a bleak picture of the possible dropout rate, child marriage and child labour.
While it is good to know that the government is aware of the situation since its "Covid-19 Response Plan for Education Sector" also warned of such consequences, the measures it has taken as of now to minimise school dropout is not at all satisfactory–the televised lessons given by the government are inaccessible to a large percentage of students while its stipend programmes are also not operating smoothly. The allocation for education in the latest budget has also disappointed us as it failed to address the needs of the time.
Needless to say, checking the school dropout and child marriage rates is a massive task for the government and some immediate measures, including building awareness on the issue, strengthening monitoring and ensuring uninterrupted stipend programmes and school feeding programmes are needed to manage the situation.
The government's Covid-19 response plan also includes tracking and bringing children back to school to prevent dropout, which should be rigorously implemented. Besides, the government can start home-schooling the disadvantaged students through feature phones to put a brake on dropout and child marriage rates in the vulnerable communities.