The Covid-driven school closure of over a year has put millions of the country's students at risk of learning loss, a new study has said.
Besides, it found that the unprecedented situation forced guardians to increase out-of-pocket expenditure on their children's education as students had to attend coaching classes and private tuitions to continue their studies.
More than half the primary and secondary students had to attend such classes and tuitions during the closure, the study said, also pointing out that the pandemic was causing mental stress to all students.
Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) shared the study findings with journalists at a virtual press conference yesterday.
The findings were presented from Part 2 of the third round of a survey titled "PPRC-BIGD Rapid Response Research: COVID Impact on Educational Life of Children".
The survey was based on telephone interviews of heads of 6,099 rural and urban slum households having school-going children. Forty-three percent of the respondents were from rural and the rest from urban areas. It was carried out between March 11 and 31.
Based on the survey findings, the PPRC and the BIGD claimed that 5.92 million primary and secondary students in the country were at risk of facing learning losses as a result of the closure.
The term learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student's education, according to education and development forum UKFIET.
The government closed schools and other education institutions across the country on March 17 last year as part of its efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
A minimum of 19 percent primary school and 21 percent secondary school students surveyed are at risk of learning loss. This translates into 3.42 million primary students and 2.50 million secondary students, said the study.
The researchers said the learning loss was caused as students were not studying at all, they were not studying without supervision and they became irregular in their studies.
"The actual learning loss is likely to be even severe … Because of the learning loss, students face higher risks of dropping out without the issue being addressed," PPRC Executive Chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman said at the press conference.
He said the learning loss was causing students to lose their skills, eventually making it difficult for them to become human resources in the future.
BIGD Executive Director Imran Matin said, "A significant portion of the school-going children are at the risk of facing learning loss. So, schools should be reopened after ensuring several measures to cover the loss and help children cope with the situation."
This risk of learning loss is more prominent among students of secondary schools in urban areas. Thirty percent boys and 26 percent girls going to such urban schools face the risk, the survey said.
When his attention was drawn to the matter, Prof Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), said the government was working to find out the number of students who were facing the risk.
The survey said 51 percent of primary students and 61 percent of secondary students were availing coaching and private tuitions to continue education during the school closure.
It said out-of-pocket education expenditure of rural families rose by 11 times between June 2020 and March 2021. It went up by 13 times for urban poor families, it said.
"This has imposed economic burden on the families, especially on the poorer families," said Zillur.
Overall, only around 10 percent of students had access to or used distance learning opportunities during the school closure. TV classes were availed by only two percent primary students and three percent secondary students, the survey found.
The DSHE DG, however, differed with this finding. According to their information, he said, at least 40 percent of students attended online classes. "Even in some cases, 60 to 80 student attend one online class"
As the survey was done in March when the government was considering reopening schools, many teachers were busy with the preparations. The number of online classes and the percentage of students may have come down in the survey because of that, said the DG.
Students' interest in attending TV classes lowered after the introduction of online classes. The interest dropped even further after the government asked teachers to hand assignments to students, he added.
According to the survey, 28 percent primary and seven percent secondary students studied taking help from their mothers while five percent primary and three percent secondary students took support from their fathers.
Twenty-one percent primary and 13 percent secondary students took help from siblings and relatives for their studies during the pandemic.
The survey also found that 12 percent of the children aged between 10 and 20 were suffering from mental stress.
In the urban slums 15.7 percent and in rural areas 8.4 percent were suffering from mental stress.
Parents said their children were getting easily irritated, were afraid to go out and showing anger or violent behaviour.
Again, eight percent school-going boys and three percent girls were engaged in income-generating activities.
About 46 percent guardians were concerned regarding the cost of education, 59 percent were concerned whether their children will be as attentive as they were earlier and 57 percent were concerned over the school reopening, the survey found.
The survey also said four percent primary students and one percent secondary students shifted to madrasas during the school closure for two reasons -- Qwami madrasas were open and they typically provided some support such as food.
Taking into consideration the second wave of Covid-19, PPRC-BIGD recommended an early reopening of schools to prevent "learning and motivation loss" and dispel parental fears around education.
Arranging additional classes outside normal class hours is also required as a recovery process. Otherwise, a large part of our population will become unskilled, said the survey.
It also recommended that existing primary and secondary stipend programmes be used to redress the out-of-pocket education cost burdens. "Using the established database, the government can quickly provide a cash boost by allocating Tk 2,960 crore in the 2021-22 budget for the primary stipend programme," PPRC and BIGD proposed.