Md Shahjahan has been the founder headmaster of Maniknagar Ideal Kindergarten since it was established back in 2004. He and 15 other teachers had relied solely on this privately-run institution to remain financially solvent, but the Covid-19 crisis turned their world upside down.
The school – just like all other educational facilities across the country – has had its doors shut since March last year following government directives in order to curb rising infections. As the school has remained shut, so have the salaries of teachers and staff gone unpaid.
In a bid to tide over this unprecedented crisis affecting both his life and livelihood, Shahjahan started selling lungis and sarees in a room at his school last year. He took out a Tk2 lakh loan and invested the money in the business, but has only counted losses so far.
Speaking to The Business Standard, Shahjahan detailed his misery, "I am going through a very difficult period in my life at this time of financial uncertainty. I cannot even bear the expenses of my family, let alone other things. I feel no joy on this Eid, only suffering and pain.
"I could not even buy my sons and daughters new clothes. I have never faced such hardship in my entire life."
Like Shahjahan, many kindergarten owners across the country are facing severe financial crises, and most of them are unable to pay salaries to their teachers. With seemingly no way out of the ongoing situation, many elementary schools have closed their doors permanently.
A significant number of teachers have also switched professions in a bid to survive their economic hardship. Though far overqualified, they have taken up jobs as boatmen, vendors and day labourers, according to the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association.
Farzana Akther, a teacher at Rose Garden High School in Dhaka, is now working with Quantum Foundation as a cleaner of corpse to make ends meet.
"I have waited for a year for the school to reopen, and during this period, I exhausted my savings. I feel so helpless over the whole situation. I could not give my family the Eid they deserve. There is no happiness for us on this occasion," she said.
The country has around 55,000 private educational institutions – including nursery schools – which employ about eight lakh teachers. There are about 80 lakh students and 8 lakh teachers in the schools.
According to the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, at least 50% of kindergarten teachers have already left the teaching profession.
Speaking on the matter, the association's Secretary-General Mizanur Rahman Sarker said, "The teachers are certainly going through a severe financial crisis. Two headmasters even committed suicide in Brahmanbaria and Kurigram. Many others are leading miserable lives.
"It is unfortunate that the government did not provide any support to us. The government should bring us under the purview of a stimulus package to allow this sector to survive."
Ikbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, told The Business Standard, "The schools have missed almost two academic years. It is also uncertain when these institutions will reopen.
"The owners of kindergarten schools have invested more than Tk1,500 crore in the sector. Most of this investment will amount to nothing if the onslaught of Covid-19 continues."
Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director-general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said the schools were running privately, and most of them had no approval.
"We are now busy checking on learning losses and dropouts. We have no plan to provide financial assistance to the kindergarten teachers," he said.