Schools not opening soon
The government has extended the closure of educational institutions till June 12, saying the reopening is subject to the drop in Covid infection rate below 5 percent and inoculation of university students.
Education ministry officials said the reopening might be delayed further, considering the rise in virus infection rate in recent weeks and uncertainty over vaccination due to a shortage of jabs.
At present, educational institutions are offering online classes and the government is broadcasting educational programmes on state-run television channels.
Experts said the government is not eager to reopen the educational institutions though it recently allowed resumption of different types of business activities.
They fear that the long closure will increase the number of dropouts as well as child marriage. Besides, it is taking a toll on many children in rural areas, most of whom are deprived of online classes.
At a joint press conference yesterday, Education Minister Dipu Moni and State Minister for Primary and Mass Education Zakir Hossen talked about the reopening of educational institutions that have remained closed since March last year amid the pandemic.
Dipu Moni said they have been relying on the suggestions of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, which has recommended reopening the educational institutions once the infection rate drops below 5 percent.
Yesterday, the infection rate was 9.11 percent.
At the virtual briefing, the minister said, "We want to reopen schools as early as possible. The [Covid] situation has improved but the risk of infection has gone up due to increased public movement."
"A student can be infected at school or on way to school and spread it to the elderly family members… We have to keep this in mind."
If the situation improves, the government will reopen educational institutions on June 13, she said.
"Preparations have been made to ensure hygiene at schools and colleges. A good number of teachers and staffers have already been vaccinated. But the reopening of universities depends on vaccination of students."
She said the government has a plan to inoculate 1.3 lakh university students. They have to take two shots of Covid vaccine each, and this will take some time.
The education ministry plans to hold in-person classes for the SSC and HSC examinees of 2021 and 2022 six days a week, said Dipu Moni.
The syllabuses of SSC and HSC have been shortened. The SSC students will have to attend classes for 60 days and the HSC students for 84 days.
"After that, there will be a two-week gap. And then the examinations will be held."
Students of class six to nine will have to go to school once a week. The number of classes will be increased in keeping with the improvement in Covid situation, said the minister.
Zakir Hossen said they plan to reopen schools on June 13.
Students of class five will attend classes six days a week whereas students of class one to four will go to school once a week, he added.
Educational activities of around four crore students have been affected by the Covid-induced closure since March 17 last year. It led to cancellation of exams and left the academic calendars in disarray. School students were promoted to the next grade this year without any examinations.
The government has been broadcasting educational programmes on state-run TV channels for primary and secondary school students. Many schools, colleges and universities have been offering online classes. But many students, especially those in rural areas, were left out because of the digital divide.
The long closure has also made students restless.
Yesterday, students under the banner of "General Students of Dhaka University" at a press conference at the TSC urged the government to reopen the university immediately.
In Rajshahi, students held demonstrations in the city's Shaheb Bazar area, demanding immediate reopening of all educational institutions.
Many guardians have resented paying full tuition fees for online classes.
"My daughter who is in class one has no interest in online classes, yet I've been paying full tuition fees for her," said Md Akramuzzaman, a banker, in the capital.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education, said the latest announcement will give some comfort to the guardians and students who have become impatient.
"The government has to find a solution to ease the growing restlessness.
"The digital divide has resulted in learning loss as many students in rural areas are deprived of education... It will be a bigger challenge for the government to address."
Besides, many children had to leave school and engage in hazardous work following job loss of their parents due to the pandemic, she observed.
The long closure has resulted in a rise in the number of dropouts and also child marriage, Rasheda pointed out.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) data shows that the infection rate dropped below 5 percent between January 09 and March 08. But it started rising since the second week of March.
Contacted, Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) at the DGHS, said, the infection rate varies from place to place.
"If you go through the data, you will see the infection rate in some areas is over 5 percent while it's 1 or 2 percent in some other places. The government could reopen schools in the areas with low infection rate by taking proper health safety measures.
"This will create a level playing field for the children in both villages and towns."
Talking to this newspaper, DGHS Director General Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam said the governmentin December last year made a list of university students for vaccination.
"But the initiative stumbled after the Serum Institute of India halted the supply of vaccine doses."
He said they will launch a vaccination programme for university students after getting Chinese vaccines. The doses will be administered to the students aged 20 and above.
The government moved to buy vaccines from China and Russia after India halted vaccine export in March. India's Serum delivered 7 million of the 30 million shots that Bangladesh bought from it.
Bangladesh will buy 1.5 crore Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, and the first consignment is likely to arrive next month.