Rayhan Ahmed Topader:
Since the closure of schools in March 2020, there have been severe disruptions in the education of children, especially those from low-income groups. Around 6 million primary and secondary students are at risk of learning loss due to the extended closure of the educational institutions in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study reported. The extended closure has led to far-reaching consequences including an increased risk of learning losses, dropouts, and psychological and economic costs, says the survey Covid-19 Impact on Education Life of Children.Some 3.42 million are primary school students and 2.50 million secondary school students are now at risk of learning loss.Covid-19 pandemic has compelled us to compromise on education. It has presented unprecedented global challenges to the schooling system, and Bangladesh has been no exception. According to a UN report issued in August, Bangladesh was the only country in South Asia and one of only 14 in the world that kept schools fully closed since March 2020 when the disease was first detected in the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus, until the government decided to reopen schools in phases from September 12.Education, if looked beyond its conventional boundaries, forms the very essence of all our actions. The necessity of education cannot be overstated it is not just a fundamental right, but an enabling right with a direct impact on the realisation of other human rights.
Education is the primary driver of progress across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a bedrock of an equal and peaceful society.Bangladesh have jointly proposed some urgent steps for a learning recovery agenda Which is conducting a simple and rapid assessment of students level of preparedness for their grade focusing on basic skills in language and maths, Extending the school year to next June to allow more time for students, teachers, and schools to adapt to the new situation, Concentrating on students’ readiness to learn and postponing annual and public exams to later in the extended academic year; and Supporting teachers to do their job well.While proposing support for teachers, the educationists in their statement said that, in order to help with learning recovery, guidelines and orientation should be provided to schools and teachers on the use of rapid assessment of grade-level student prepared- ness; Pedagogic steps to assist students by using results of the preparedness assessment; Instructional planning to focus on core competencies, aiming to help students become self-reliant learners; and Socio-emotional support to students and communicating with students and parents. Online platforms should be used extensively for the guidance and orientation of teachers and to complement classroom teaching for students.A comparative disadvantage of Bangladesh along with countries in South Asia unlike other regions of the world is that it does not have a well-established, pre-service teacher education programme. Yet, school teaching is the single largest field of employment for college graduates.
The common practice is to first recruit college graduates as primary or secondary teachers, and then let them go for one year to 18 months of pedagogy training. School teaching is not the first choice as a career for higher education graduates, especially the talented ones. Therefore, ends up attracting the bottom of the barrel of the graduates, I had written. The basic talent gap cannot be remedied by in-service teacher training. The need to think afresh about attracting and keeping talented people in the profession of teaching is a major challenge for improving education system performance.We have not witnessed any initiative to rethink the teaching profession. Meanwhile, the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has made the teacher’s job more difficult than ever. Teachers, along with the rest of society, have suffered from the pandemic-caused health, economic and socio-emotional distress. Media reports have shown how teachers of private schools, known as kindergarten schools, have resorted to menial work to support their families, when schools were shut down and they lost their income.Now that schools have reopened teachers are faced with the challenge of helping their students to recover from the loss of almost two academic years. There are administrative instructions galore from the central authorities on how the class seating should be arranged, and which group of students should come to school for how many hours.But there is not much guidance about how the students can be helped to recover their learning losses, how the losses can be assessed, and how the students can be helped to prepare for their grade-level instruction.
There is a single-minded focus on holding public examinations as soon as possible, at any cost.
Thankfully, the PECE and JSC exams have now been scrapped, which many educationists would like to see gone permanently. Teachers have been thrust into a mission impossible by the obsession with exams and insistence on sticking to the current academic year calendar, and have not been given enough guidance and support about how students can be helped in an unprecedented situation.One of these measures is to earnestly begin new thinking about the teachers/education work force. No system of education can be better than its teachers, they said. While on-the-job training and orientation of teachers are necessary, ways have to be found to attract talented and well-motivated young people to and retain them in the profession of educators. Experiences of better performing countries can be lessons in this case. A longer-term plan has to be designed, backed by high-level commitment to see it through.We all can recall from our student days one or more teachers who touched our lives in a special way. They inspired us to aspire higher and served as our role models. The image of a teacher was of a scholar who selflessly dispensed knowledge and wisdom to the younger generation, lived a simple life, and was not too concerned about material rewards. They could be looked upon by the young as a mentor a friend, philosopher, and guide.This nostalgic view is overdrawn, but bears a strong kernel of truth. Is such an image wholly romantic and unrealistic in contemporary society? It should not be so.
Romanticism apart, teachers are still the custodians of the young, and responsible to equip future citizens, leaders and workers with skills, knowledge and values. Teachers have a unique role in society unlike any other occupation. The significance of this special role can be neglected at grave peril to society and its future.Let’s hope that the crisis in education that we face today, aggravated by the pandemic, will prompt the policymakers to begin new thinking about students, teachers and teaching. However, to do so, there is a need for adequate allocation of money. Those involved with the preparation of a teaching manual and teaching at the grass-roots level will have to be given incentive remunerations. Even a voluntary corps of teaching staff will have to be raised for helping children from the vulnerable families and in far flung areas. Vulnerable families will have to be even helped with the wherewithal for survival. As for urban children, parents with help from teachers through digital devices can take the responsibility of getting over any learning regression.Most children have lost considerable instruction time and may not be prepared to adjust to the curriculum and syllabus that were age and grade-appropriate before the pandemic. Students must receive effective remedial learning and comprehensive learning services that will improve their overall welfare, and meet their learning requirements.Apart from that, reducing additional dropouts and absenteeism should be given the highest priority via communication campaigns and stipends. Stipends will help bring and retain students from underprivileged families.
While campaigns designed for communications through different mediums will play a significant role in ensuring that learning continues amid the crisis.Parents, educational institutions, and teachers must join forces together to take all necessary steps possible to plan, prioritise, and ensure that all students are learning again.
Incorporating digital technologies to teach foundation skills could assist teachers in the classroom to gradually phase out the distance learning chapter of the students’ lives. We should make it our priority to enable a supportive learning environment, which also addresses students’ health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs.When education systems collapse, a peaceful and prosperous society cannot be sustained. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly hampered the education system and the entire student body. However, with schools reopening, we have the opportunity to create a sustainable and robust education system that will potentially kick-start the process to recover from losses induced by the pandemic.
Writer and Columnist