Schools Reopen: Caged no more, back to fun
The cadence of children is returning to the classrooms today after 543 days -- a major milestone in the government's effort to return the country to its pre-pandemic state.
Bangladesh's estimated 4 crore students have been out of the classroom for the longest in the world, according to Unesco.
Pervasive public fears about children falling ill from Covid-19 or turning vectors of the coronavirus from the overcrowded classrooms led the government to put the reopening of educational institutions lower down the pecking order.
But with the test positivity rate and fatalities declining after a devastating second wave a few weeks earlier, the government has become confident enough to bring students back to the classrooms in phases.
For students, the development is a major relief after a disorienting academic year: they struggled immensely with the social isolation of remote learning as well as suffered from learning loss for inadequate access to digital devices and reliable internet connections.
"I am happy to return to school -- it was boring at home," said Shartaz Habib Ayyan, a class-6 student at Mirpur Cantonment Public School and College.
But his excitement was tamed when he learnt that students of classes 1 to 4 and 6 to 9 will be attending in-person classes once a week for now, with online classes on other days.
"One day a week is too little. School is a place for us to learn, see our friends and have fun," Ayyan said.
Candidates of Higher Secondary Certificate, Secondary School Certificate exams of 2021 and 2022 and this year's Primary Education Completion Examination (PECE) and its equivalent exams would attend classes every day.
For HSC candidate Anjum Chaity, this means preparations for her board exam can begin in full swing.
"I was not able to clear my doubts in online classes -- there are network issues, too. In in-person classes, I could do so immediately," said Chaity, a student of Dhaka Commerce College in Mirpur.
Parents though are not as excited as they are not sure whether the schools and colleges would be able to keep their children safe from the coronavirus.
One such concerned father is Shahinur Hossain. He would not send his children to classrooms now and would wait a week or two to see whether the school has put in place effective safety measures to prevent outbreaks.
If the coronavirus caseload increases, the government would close the educational institutions again, said Education Minister Dipu Moni yesterday.
This comes after Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Friday said his ministry would recommend closing schools and colleges if the Covid positivity rate goes up again.
Chances of infection rate rising again are low if the health guidelines are followed properly, Dipu Moni said while talking with reporters at Jamalpur Circuit House after attending an Awami League event.
She went on to urge all parents not to send their children to schools if they display any kind of Covid-19 symptoms.
Almost all schools are ready to hold in-person classes from today with all the safety protocols, according to Syed Md Golam Faruk, director-general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), and Ratan Chandra Pandit, additional secretary to the primary and mass education ministry.
"We have taken all steps to maintain health guidelines at school," said Shahan Ara Begum, headteacher of Ideal School and College in Motijheel, who is excited about the return of hustle and bustle in the school's corridor and playground.
Teachers would now have to give more time to students to make up for the learning losses they incurred during the closure, said Siddiqur Rahman, former director of Dhaka University's Institute of Education and Research.
He proposed that students are taught the lessons that they missed during the closure.
"Physical and mental wellbeing of children and helping them return to a meaningful learning process should be the priority," said Manzoor Ahmed, emeritus professor of Brac University.
The DSHE officials said that that secondary schools and colleges will hold two classes for each class when the schools resume, while the Directorate of Primary Education officials said primary students will attend three classes a day.
Both the offices instructed schools to ensure that all students wear a face mask, have adequate hand sanitising facilities and ensure that only two students sit on each large bench to maintain social distancing inside the classrooms.
Educational institutions were closed across the country on March 17 last year to curb the spread of Covid-19. The closure led to the cancellation of classes and examinations including last year's HSC, JSC and PECE.
The government on August 26 decided that all students of public and private universities would be vaccinated by the end of September and in-person classes at the universities would begin on October 15.
Health Minister on September 2 said in-person academic activities of first-, second-, and fifth-year students of medical colleges would start from September 13.
There are 2.02 crore students at 1.29 lakh primary schools, kindergarten and madrassas, 1.33 crore students at about 37,000 schools, technical and madrassas, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics.
These students are expected to be in in-person classes this week.