1.7m students drop out in pandemic

Covid-induced financial hurdles of families key factor, say experts
dropping out from school
Photo: Amran Hossain

Education in Bangladesh took a major hit from the Covid pandemic, which caused 17.62 lakh students to drop out of educational institutions, according to government data.

A total of 2,49,159 university students discontinued studies between 2020 and 2021,    according to a report of the University Grants Commission.

Besides, 62,104 secondary school students and 14,50,719 primary school-level students dropped out in the same period, according to data from Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (Banbeis) and the Directorate of Primary Education.

Educationists say many of these students permanently left educational institutions.

Noted educationist and former chairman of University Grants Commission Prof MA Mannan said the economic crunch caused by the pandemic was one of the main reasons behind the fall in the number of students.

According to the Unesco Global Education Monitoring Report 2022, households cover almost two-thirds of the total cost of education in Bangladesh.

"Many parents married their daughters off during the pandemic. Some of them [students] left the country as migrant workers," said Prof Mannan.

Many university students used to meet their study expenses by working as tutors. But they lost that source of income during the pandemic and dropped out of universities, he said.

Educational institutions were closed on March 17, 2020 due to Covid, and partially reopened on September 12, 2021. The 543-day school closure in Bangladesh was one of the longest in the world.

The UGC report submitted to President Abdul Hamid on Thursday night shows that there were 44,41,717 university students in 2021, down from 46,90,876 in 2020.

According to the Banbeis education statistics, there were 1,01,90,022 secondary school students in 2021, while the number was 1,02,52,126 in 2020.

Of the 62,104 students who dropped out of secondary schools, 52,838 were girls.

The Annual Primary School Census 2021 said there were 2,15,51,691 students in the primary schools in 2020 and the number came down to 2,01,00,972 the following year. Of the 14,50,719 students who left the schools, around 10 lakh were girls.

Talking to this newspaper, Prof Nehal Ahmed, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), blamed the pandemic for the drop in the number of students. He, however, added that many students were coming back to schools, and hoped it will be reflected in the government reports for 2022.

He added that the number of girl students fell as many guardians married off their daughters during the pandemic.

UGC member Prof Muhammed Alamgir also  attributed the fall in the number of students to the pandemic.

According to a DSHE report released in August 2022, at least 47,414 girls were victims of child marriage and 77,706 children became labourers in 2021. The data is from only 11,769 of the country's 20,960 secondary schools.

Prof Mohammad Tariq Ahsan of the Institute of Education and Research (IER) at Dhaka University said many of those, who had to leave the universities to take up jobs during the pandemic, found out whatever they had learnt in classrooms were of little use in "real life".

"They are thinking about the amount of money and time they must spend by returning to the educational institutions to earn a certificate that may not even be useful in their jobs," he said.

There should be a "life-oriented" education system, he added.

To bring back the students, the authorities should keep their needs in mind and make school hours more flexible, he said, adding that the second-chance education programme should be strengthened by the primary education directorate.

Prof MA Mannan said the government should provide incentives to the students to bring them back to classrooms. They should be provided with technical and vocational training, he added.