With minimal engagement in learning for almost two years, were students ready for lessons for the new grade, when schools reopened in a very limited way in September after being auto-promoted from their previous grade in 2020?
The 50th anniversary of Bangladesh has prompted a good measure of review and deliberations about achievements, problems and challenges in education and what should be done in the future. The performance of the country in the economic sphere and on social indicators has raised expectations.
However, the pandemic and the uncertainty of its course have put a damper on an optimistic view. It has precipitated a crisis which has to be overcome in order to construct a hopeful scenario for the future that would be achievable. A generational danger in education is looming, which is not receiving the attention of policy-makers.
With minimal engagement in learning for almost two years, were students ready for lessons for the new grade, when schools reopened in a very limited way in September after being auto-promoted from their previous grade in 2020? Will they be ready for their lessons in January 2022 after another virtual auto-promotion to the next grade?
Besides attending school for a very limited number of hours and days since mid-September, up to a quarter of students, especially girls, have not even returned to school.
The pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis, and the end is not in sight. An extraordinary situation demands an exceptional and bold response. It does not make sense to presume that the education machine could be restarted where it was left off in March 2020, as if the intervening period of almost two lost years did not matter.
Welcoming school reopening in September, ten educationists jointly recommended four urgent steps as a learning recovery and an accelerated learning agenda in response to the special situation ("Four urgent steps to put students on track for learning," Daily Star, 25 September, 2021).
The educationists advised: Carry out a rapid assessment in each school of student readiness for their grade level in basic skills of Bangla and math (plus science and English at secondary level); extend current school year to next June and help students be prepared for their grade in core skills (and change school year to September-June permanently); help teachers with guidance and on-line support to carry out the remedial work for students; forego the emphasis on public and school exams and put all effort on teaching-learning to recover the loss.
The authorities have paid no heed to the educationists' advice. They are hell-bent on going back to the old routine regardless of what it means for students. The Primary Education Authorities have prepared their next year's calendar starting in January, which retains the much-disputed primary education completion examination (PECE), planned for November, 2022. The Secondary education authorities are planning for their public exams – what and if students learn anything is their own business!
A longer term view can hardly be taken unless the education system stands on its feet now and survives the present crisis, which can have a generational impact with cumulative learning deficit for students. The educationists' advice to deal with the current crisis should be heeded before it is too late.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed is professor emeritus at Brac University and vice-chair of the Council of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE).