The Financial Express

Testing times ahead of students

Testing times ahead of students

Schools, colleges and universities remained closed during the nine-month occupation of Bangladesh in 1971. The land was completely liberated on December 16 that year. After the surrender of the occupation army on that day, with an 'all-clear'permeating the air, speculations were rife about the tentative dates for resuming curricular activities. Many educationists   were in favour of opening the primary schools without delay. The upper-level educational institutions opted for waiting for some time. They felt the need for giving space to the college or university-going Freedom Fighters to return from the front.

By mid-January 1972, teachers and students filled the schools across the country. The air was free of panic and any semblance of misgivings. Many wish a similar situation prevailed in the post-Covid-19 Bangladesh. Alas, it sounds like a reverie. When it comes to contagious pandemics, there are few scopes for having the 'all-clear' signal, which is raised after enemy planes leave the sky of a country following air attacks. Pandemics behave differently. They never leave territories in a specific time or on medium-range or short notice. Even after the pandemic outbreaks subside or are over, their fallout stays back. The impacts of the present global scourge are feared to haunt people or debilitate their lives for a long time.

Along with the economy, the industrial production and other growth-related sectors, the one of education is set to remain in disarray for a long time after the virus is eradicated in countries. Unlike those of previous pandemics, the Covid-19 virus and its variants have already demonstrated its inscrutable nature. Many countries may feel relieved that they have been able to conquer the scourge. But they cannot declare with assertion that the pandemic would not stage an insidious comeback from across the borders or far-away areas. It is no amateur groups' observation. The upsetting predictions come from globally famed epidemiologists and related institutions. Only the overconfident and perversely optimist segments in society can belittle these forecasts. It took nearly three centuries, 18th, 19th and 20th, for nations in Europe and Asia to declare themselves   completely free of a few deadly pandemics. But a handful of them were seen surfacing in different phases of the late 20th century. Compared to these pandemic agents, the novel corona virus is full of complexities. Medical experts feel puzzled in their nonstop efforts to decipher the basic character of the virus.

Against this backdrop, highly developed countries have started returning to their earlier days of normalcy --- or the present near-normal. Some of them are seriously mulling opening their schools to enable students to be present there physically. They may have realised the unavoidable psychological damages being done to the children and teenagers by compelling them to attend online classes. In Bangladesh, irrespective of socio-economic status, child and young learners are feared to be stuck in a void. It is said to have been caused by a prolonged detachment from normal school activities. Even after their return to school, a raft of mandatory preventive measures might upset many of them. To some, these dos and don'ts may, finally, appear as a dread. Meanwhile, the void created in the subconscious of others might keep deepening. With two long years lost or wasted in the online exercises of class attendance, every moment is veritably precious to the learners after their return to school. Shaking off the feeling of helplessness, the most pragmatic way before the guardians now could be a patient wait. Students need some time to adapt to the 'old normal'.

In spite of the fact that the pandemic situation in Bangladesh has not turned fierce like in its close neighbour India, orders of 'shutdown' and lockdown have been in force for over one year. Of all institutions, those related to education were declared closed first. Students of well-to-do schools found themselves enjoying the facility of classes conducted online. In the national context, the percentage was humble. The virtual classes were mostly held in schools in the capital and large cities. Due to the sole dependence on internet connection, a vast number of students were deprived of these classes. In areas without internet facility, the students were made to buy megabyte to run their smart-phones and PCs. It added to the educational expenditure of the students, meaning a financial burden for students. Not all schools were equipped with digital facilities, with few teachers being online-savvy. As a result, it was found that most of the schools in villages, remote areas and the capital's far-away suburbs had been closed in the true sense of the word.

With not even the distant links to school, students ranging from children to teenagers found themselves in a great vacuum. They didn't have to learn their lessons for the next day, or do the homework. The days seemed carefree in the beginning. But soon they turned tedious. Students from urban middle-class families eventually found that the parental noose tightening on them. But at one time those began to slacken. The boys and girls are now thrown into an apparently infinite freedom. In a twist of irony, few are capable of utilising the endless leisure.

The condition of children is worse. It is them who miss their class-friends most acutely. With the favourite faces out of sight for months in a row, it is them who can understand what boredom is. Their behaviour with their parents and the elderly family members began changing fast. Soon they became carpingand irritable. All these finally turn out to be the signs of chronic depression. Many lower-grade school students have reportedly started sulking around their home. It is the pre-reopening training of teachers conducted by experts which can bail the students out. Incompetent and untrained teachers will only aggravate state of the students after schools begin.


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