Schools in Bangladesh, both public and private, opened their doors to students in September 2021 after enduring the most extended period of closure the world has ever seen, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are some concerns, such as, how teachers will address the loss of learning that affects students around the country. Schools in Bangladesh are now employing new strategies to ensure students can get back on track with their learning after a more than one and a half year-long absence from the classroom.
Bangladesh experienced the world’s longest school shutdown period of 543 days, implemented at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in Bangladesh, including schools that the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) runs finally reopened back in September 2021. In the week of September 19, 2021, BRAC welcomed 129,000 students back into school, according to the BRAC website.
After welcoming students back to its schools, BRAC pointed out two challenges that schools now face. The first challenge is to safeguard the health and well-being of both students and faculty during the continuing pandemic. BRAC schools began checking the temperatures of students and faculty upon entry every day, “either using temporary measures such as digital thermometers… or thermal scanners,” according to the BRAC website. These schools required students and faculty to wear masks and students received an outdoor break every hour.
BRAC has established handwashing stations across the schools and reduced class sizing by 50% to adhere to social distancing protocols, “with students attending in different sessions and no more than 15-20 students in a class at any one time.”
The second challenge schools in Bangladesh now face is: understanding the extent to which a loss of learning has impacted students and helping them catch up. To address learning losses, BRAC educators conducted an “initial formative assessment” to identify areas of need and “design a remedial intervention for the next 17-20 school days.” BRAC educators also made accommodations for extra learning days where necessary.
Amid the pandemic, BRAC introduced remote learning for students. While the switch to remote learning proved troublesome for all, the task proved even more difficult for lower-level income households. According to BRAC, only 8.7% of the most impoverished 20% of families in Bangladesh had internet access in their residences.
As a result of the limited access to internet connections and devices, “children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey,” said George Laryea-Adjei, regional director of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in an interview with Al Jazeera. Only 41% of Bangladesh’s 169 million people have access to smartphones, according to the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
The Awaited Return
Upon returning to the classroom, students met with celebration. One public school in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, welcomed its students back with flowers and candy. “We are really excited to be back at school,” said 15-year-old Muntasir Ahmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Ahmed also expressed excitement about seeing friends and classmates in person rather than through the screen of a device.
During the first week of BRAC schools reopening, there was a major focus on the physical and mental well-being of its returning students. “The key is not only getting students to return, but to want to stay in school after such a long break,” BRAC said on its website.
Schools in Bangladesh closed in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. At the time of reopening, Dipu Monu, education minister of Bangladesh, visited an educational institution in Dhaka and said that only students who are taking public exams would attend classes day-to-day upon school reopening. She also added that students who are not taking public exams would attend class once or twice a week.
While schools in Bangladesh endured the longest school closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of new safety and learning procedures seems to provide hope for both returning students and their families. Educators have been working diligently since schools shut down to prepare for the return of their students, ready to provide the remedial education necessary to recover learning losses.
– Henry Hyman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons