Trouble for Rowshon Kabir – head teacher of Paragon Kindergarten in Kurigram – began in March this year with the closure of educational institutions across Bangladesh to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Upset with the disheartening turn of events, but determined to keep his school afloat during these trying times, Kabir racked up Tk16 lakh in debts by borrowing from his friends and relatives. Though up to his neck in debt, he did his best to pay the bills, rents and salaries, but it was not enough.
Kabir's story does not have a happy ending. He committed suicide on 30 June to escape his lingering financial and mental stress. And he is not alone, as the financial crisis caused by the pandemic has ruined the lives of countless private school teachers across the country.
Teaching is universally considered a noble profession, but no privately run educational institutions, or their teachers and staff, have received financial support from the government since the pandemic outbreak.
Teachers of the private sector have been seeking Tk1,000 crore in financial assistance from the government ever since the educational institutions shut down, in a bid to survive amid the pandemic, but action is yet to be taken in this regard.
Monwar Ahmed, head teacher of Sun World International School in the capital's Mirpur Section 10, died of a stroke in June this year. Monwar's wife Tania Sultana told The Business Standard, "My husband was suffering from financial troubles. He could not handle the mental stress anymore, and died of a stroke in the end."
She continued, "Sun World International School needs Tk1 lakh per month, but we had no savings. My husband ran the institution, and he could not meet the expenses since April this year.
"We are educating students to build a prosperous Bangladesh, but, sadly, we never get any help from the government."
Responding to a query, Bangladesh Shikshak Samity President M Nazrul Islam Rony said, "The teachers of private educational institutions are going through very miserable times. They will be compelled to leave the profession and close down most of the institutions if they do not get financial assistance from the government."
No plans right now
According to sources from the private institutions' organisations, they have invested about Tk6,000 crore in this sector so far, but their investment is now under threat.
Around 2,000 private institutions have already closed down amid this crisis and 70% teachers are now jobless. Of these institutions, at least 500 have shut down for good in Dhaka. Similar has been the case with more than 200 in Chattogram.
Moshiur Rahman Suruz, founder of Rode Model Kindergarten in Meherpur, had invested Tk10 lakh in the school. But he is now selling biscuits from door to door so that his family can make ends meet.
"I was not prepared for such a situation. I had dreamt to be the founder of a reputed institution, but the Covid-19 pandemic dashed all my hopes," he said.
Commenting on the crisis, Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad's President Ikbal Bahar Chowdhury said, "We teach students who mostly belong to poor and lower-middle income families.
"Along with the teachers, the fate of a large number of students will also become uncertain if these educational institutions shut down permanently."
Siddique Belal, secretary of the trustee board of Sahajpath High School in Lalmatia of Dhaka, said the board managed a loan of Tk25 lakh to keep the institution going following closure of educational institutions in March.
"The money is being used to pay rents, bills and salaries. It will be tough to keep the school running if the virus lingers," he said.
According to the Bangladesh Shikshak Samity, and several other organisations of privately-run and non-MPO (Monthly Pay Order) educational institutions, there are about 60,000 such institutions with about 1 crore students from pre-primary to Class 10 across the country.
At least 10 lakh teachers and employees are employed in these institutions.
When approached for comments, Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said the education ministry has no plans right now to help the teachers of privately-run schools.
But educationists say saving teachers and their schools can only save our children.
Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus of Brac University, said, "The government should form a committee and provide soft loans to the private educational institutions. Otherwise, they will face problems, and ultimately the students will be the victims."
Left to fend for themselves
Several organisations of private educational institutions had appealed to the government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on multiple occasions, seeking financial assistance for teachers. But such support is yet to arrive.
The Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad on 10 November this year urged the prime minister to reopen privately-run educational institutions by maintaining health guidelines.
This organisation, and many others, also sought Tk1,000 crore in financial assistance for ensuring the survival of teachers and staff, but to no avail.
Mizanur Rahman Sarker, secretary general of the Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, said, "We can no longer endure the crisis faced by our teachers and staff. That is why we sought financial assistance from the government for their survival.
"We will not be able to reopen the educational institutions after the Covid-19 crisis if we do not get any financial assistance."
Commenting on the issue, Professor Siddiqur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Education and Research under Dhaka University, said the government should provide grants to the private teachers and institutions on humanitarian grounds.
Non-MPO teachers in trouble too
Although the teachers and employees of non-MPO educational institutions received some financial support from the education ministry, it was not sufficient to cover their daily expenses amid the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.
Principal Golam Mahmudunnabi Dollar, president of Non-MPO Shikkha Protisthan Shikkhak-Karmachari Federation, said, "Our teachers have been working relentlessly for building up the future generation for many years.
"We actually get a very poor amount from the institutions, but those are now closed."
The government had allocated Tk46.63 crore for 81,000 non-MPO teachers and 25,000 employees of different educational institutions. Each teacher received Tk5,000 and each employee Tk2,500 as a one-off assistance.
But the amount is too meagre compared to the number of teaching staff to be able to reduce their hardship, teachers said.
There are 6,500 non-MPO institutions which depend on donations, and are committed to run the institutions without any profit for the benefit of the country.