Students eager to return to school

Staff Correspondent: Students, guardians, teachers, government officials and non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers are in favour of reopening educational institutions in February.

A recent survey report titled “Interim Report: Reopening School, When and How”,  by the Campaign for Popular Education (Campe), came up with the finding.

Based on the survey, Campe recommends reopening educational institutions in non-metropolitan areas in February and metropolitan areas in March maintaining strict health guidelines.

The advocacy and campaign network also recommends reopening schools and colleges in phases. Classes IV, V, X and XII can be opened initially, and others later.

The survey was conducted among 992 students, guardians, teachers, government officials and non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers of 21 upazilas in eight districts of eight divisions.

Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campe, said the education ministry as well as the primary and mass education ministry had appreciated the survey.

“They said 80% of the findings match the government’s plan to reopen schools.”

The Campe survey found that 69% of primary and secondary students did not attend online classes – which were broadcast on Sangsad Television, radio, and other online platforms – during the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Also, 58% of students did not have the means to join online classes as they lacked necessary devices.

The survey found that 75% of students want to return to regular schooling while 76% of parents, 73% of schoolteachers, and 80% NGO workers also think schools should reopen now.

The education ministry is preparing to reopen schools fully from February as it plans not to extend school closure after 30 January, ministry sources said.

The ministry extended school closure across the country for the 13th time due to the pandemic.

“We have been preparing to reopen schools from next month. We will make the final decision on the exact date soon,” Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told.

Many Indian states reopened schools for students in grades from 9 to 12 in mid-January while Pakistan reopened schools on 18 January in phases, starting with higher grades first.

Nepal is in the process of reopening schools. The island nation of Sri Lanka reopened schools in August last year but closed again after a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Now the central government of Sri Lanka is encouraging schools to reopen as per decisions of the local authorities.

Sources said the education ministry had already asked schools to prepare for reopening in February.

In the meantime, teachers have started going to schools regularly while the school authorities have initiated clean-up programmes to remove dust accumulated during the long closure.

Wishing anonymity, a ministry official told schools had been asked to strictly maintain health guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.

Only one student, the official said, would be allowed to sit on a bench and a maximum of 15 would be allowed to join a class.

Monday’s Covid-19 infection rate was 4.65%, which health experts said is favourable to school reopening.

Professor Narayan Chandra Saha, chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), said they had already prepared the syllabus which would be implemented to recover students’ learning losses.

Campe’s other recommendations

The Campe report recommended that the government and the school authorities ensure that students and teachers wear masks in school, soap and water are provided for all to wash hands, and toilets, classroom benches and desks are sanitised daily.

It recommended preparing a short-term, two-year restart and recovery plan; a five-year, medium-term plan; and a long-term plan.

Communities and the civil society should be involved in supporting the education restart and recovery programme, said the report.

Professor Emeritus at Brac University Manzoor Ahmed said it would be tough for the government to recover learning losses of students if local communities cannot be engaged in school reopening.

It is essential to abridge the syllabus for the next two years to recover learning losses by focusing on key competencies, reducing time spent on exams, and spending more time on teaching, the report said.

Moreover, it recommended that no Primary School Certificate (PSC), Junior School Certificate (JSC) and Junior Dakhil Certificate (JDC) exams be held while Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) tests be held on fewer subjects under a short syllabus.

It is also equally important to shorten school vacation, arrange school-based extra tutoring for students lagging in study, and use Saturdays to hold remedial classes, the report said.

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