Dhaka, Bangladesh
UNICEF chief’s concerns about fallout of school closure

UNICEF chief’s concerns about fallout of school closure

Concerns expressed by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement on Tuesday about the adverse impact of school closure for long indeed echo the public sentiment in general and the parents and teachers in particular. As different media report, she has said that the children cannot afford another year of school disruption due to the global pandemic coronavirus. Moreover, if children are faced with another year of school closures, the effects will be felt for generations to come. According to the UN education- agency chief, the number of out-of-school children is set to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not seen in years. Children’s ability to read, write and do basic math has suffered, and the skills they need to thrive in the 21st-century economy have diminished. Worse still, their health, development, safety and well-being are at risk. The most vulnerable among them will bear the heaviest brunt. Without daily interactions with their peers and a reduction in mobility, they are losing physical fitness and showing signs of mental distress. Without the safety net that school often provides, they are more vulnerable to abuse, child marriage and child labour. Meanwhile, suggestion for campus reopening is growing inside the country as well with students getting exasperated for prolonged home-stay. Those who are pleading for campus reopening, including some students and student organizations, point out that all sectors are open and mass political and other gatherings are taking place save only education sector. Additionally, Bangladesh, belying grim predictions, averted such winter waves. Rather the incidence remained low, with the infection rate dropping to the lowest level at 5.0 percent and daily deaths at 16 on Tuesday by official count. All educational institutions have closed their operation since March 17 in compliance with a government order amid a fear of coronavirus infection spread. Since then, the academic activities of crores of students from primary-to tertiary-level institutions have remained suspended. There are some online classes taken by some institutions. But it is limited to very few institutions as most of them lack any such mechanism to ensure interactions between teachers and students. Lots of students are there who do not have the ability to afford a mechanism to attend online classes. Government measures to facilitate the education of students at home through TV and radio broadcasts and online classes could not reach an estimated 90 lakh students, said studies and researchers. Under the circumstances, it is feared that such remote classes have widened the discrimination among the students, a burning problem of the country’s education system, as most students from poor families or in remote areas remained out of the coverage of the TV broadcasts or online classes. Additionally, apprehensions are there that drop-out rate may rise in primary and secondary education in particular subverting the success achieved in this regard in the past ten years. Many teachers of non-government schools, colleges, madrassahs and universities lost their jobs or received partial salaries as owners of these institutions claimed that they could not continue paying teachers and employees as they did not get tuition fees regularly. Reportedly, many private schools have had to close operation permanently under the mounting pressure from house owners over unpaid rents. Overall, it is time the government gave some serious thought to the suggestions for reopening educational institutions, if the overall circumstances permit, under special arrangements suiting the 'new normal'. No doubt, the government has to fix some issues before going for the decision as it has to ensure sustained monitoring of the compliance with the health guidelines in all educational institutions. Moreover, it is tough for any authority to ensure the compliance as it is still not clear who will bear the extra amount to be spent by the institution authorities for the purpose. Creating adequate awareness among parents of the health protocols is also a difficult job. Yet, the authorities could take note of the UNICEF chief’s concerns in question.

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