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The Financial Express

Education crisis in Covid-19: Addressing school closure, child labour & the threat of massive dropout

| Updated: August 08, 2021 20:49:23


Education crisis in Covid-19: Addressing school closure, child labour & the threat of massive dropout

Bangladesh is facing immense challenges, especially in the education sector due to Covid-19. A recent study has shown, more than 3 per cent of the total labour force from the formal sector lost their jobs which pushed 16.38 million people under the poverty line due to the ongoing pandemic. The new poor parents are compelled to engage their children in the different informal working sectors taking the advantage of the closure of educational institutions due to the pandemic. According to the recent report of ILO and UNICEF, covid-19 pushed millions of children into child labour in Bangladesh. The shutdown of the schools for more than a year and reduction of family income exposes school-going children to the risk of child labour. Furthermore, some studies show that a 1 per cent rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7 per cent increase in child labour. The availability of child workers at low wages makes child labour popular nowadays. Another study shows boys are mostly engaged with roadside workshops (repairs, welding, furniture making etc.), restaurants and stalls, small shops, saloons, bakeries, chemicals, waste picking, and transportation. Poor and hungry children have been offered about 33 per cent of domestic help in Dhaka.

According to the Ministry of Education, currently in Bangladesh,  23,907,151 students are enrolled in the primary and secondary level. More than two-thirds of them are from the lower middle class and lower-class families. A report of the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) published in 2019 indicated a 36 per cent dropout rate at the secondary level. The percentage will be increased to 45 per cent or more if the pandemic continues till the end of this year. Though some initiatives such as television lessons, online classes have been introduced by the government and some educational institutions to support the mass students, the facilities have not reached to the marginal students due to the economic vulnerability and lack of technological devices and knowledge. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 2019, conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and UNICEF Bangladesh, around 50 per cent of the total households do not own television while 5 per cent do not have a mobile phone. The percentage would be much greater if the survey considered android devices a must need to join such platforms. The report says that 94.4 per cent of total households do not own a computer, while 63 per cent do not have internet access. The percentage of accessibility of the internet is lower in the countryside than in the urban region.

Rakib (13), a student of class eight, is now working as a salesman at a vegetable shop in Mirpur, Dhaka. "My school is closed, and my father, who is a rickshaw puller, fixed me here.  I have been working here since October 2020. Now I am earning BDT 150 per day", Rakib told this scribe. Rakib does not have an android device to avail online classes, in fact, he does not look interested in attending online classes. When he was asked about his plan after the school opening, he was pretty reluctant. The same scenario has been seen in most other countryside areas, where most school kids are far from academic study. Instead, they are helping their parents in their daily activities such as farming, shopkeeping, household chores, and so forth. Notably, some parents are also reluctant to send their children to school again due to insufficient income. Moreover, experiencing massive job cuts, some poor parents have lost their eagerness to send children to school rather than to send or engage them in income-generating activities. Many teenagers are also involved in online parcel delivery these days. Jewel (14), a class nine student, is now an online parcel delivery boy in Dhaka, stated, "My school has been closed for more than a year, and there is no academic pressure now. Since I have a bicycle, my father, who lost his job due to the pandemic now a Pathao Rider, suggested me to work here. Now I earn around 250 Taka per day, which I can contribute to my family, and I am enjoying my work as many of my friends are doing so." When asked about his future study plan, Jewel looked a bit worried. "I tried to continue my study alongside my current job. However, I need to support my family as well", he replied with a sigh. "Could you ensure any secure job after even my graduation? My father is a graduate, and he has not fixed himself in a certain career, so that he is a rider now," Jewel continued with frustration. 

School dropout has become a global concern nowadays. A recent report of Save the Children published in 2021 warned that almost 10 million children might never return to school after the pandemic across the world. The report listed Bangladesh in the 28th position where children are at moderate or high risk of dropout. Shockingly, some recent reports reveal that some private schools closed forever as parents failed to pay tuition fees. What will happen to students of those schools?  It has also been reported that the girls are at increased exposure to gender-based violence and the threat of child marriage in Bangladesh. The report raised a significant concern as 54 per cent of secondary level students and 51 per cent of primary level students are girls in Bangladesh. The recent study of the Gender Justice and Diversity Department of BRAC found that in the year 2020, child marriage increased by 13 per cent in Bangladesh, which is the highest in the last 25 years.

Like Rakib and Jewel, millions of young kids may not return to the school premises after the pandemic, which will be a serious challenge for our country. The government should take immediate action; otherwise, our future might fall into enormous trouble. Now the question is, what can be done? We do not know when the pandemic situation will be under control, and the schools must not be closed throughout the years. Students are becoming psychologically traumatised. Many of them are now addicted to social media and online games which may ruin their future potentials. Considering the present circumstances, the government should introduce a new education policy immediately. The policy may incorporate in-person physical distance learning, teachers' training, the combination of online-offline learning, relocation of class time and duration, ensuring availability of digital devices and internet, popularising digital learning, new assessment system and so forth. Furthermore, psychological counseling for both teachers and students is indispensable. Unfortunately, the allocated budget in the FY 2021-22 for the education and research sector does not make us too optimistic in terms of resource allocation nor even suggest any concrete policies.

Now the government is emphasising mass vaccination targeting 40-60 per cent of the total population, and for a populous country like Bangladesh, it may take a long time to execute.  If 60 per cent of our total population is vaccinated, will we be out of danger? New variants are coming out, and we have already experienced delta and delt-plus variants. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the covid-free world is quite uncertain now. European leaders have already pronounced the concept "live with Covid" by maintaining strict hygiene rules. The same should be followed in Bangladesh. But maintaining strict hygiene rules is the biggest challenge for Bangladesh. Only law enforcement agencies cannot face this challenge alone. But if we can train properly, our 42.7 million students can be the game-changer. With the help of teachers, the students can play important role in  ensuring hygiene rules throughout the country as we have seen previously in the case of diarrhea prevention by promoting hand washing, water purifying and ORSaline. This engagement can also reduce school dropout, child labour and early marriage.

Md Ohidujjaman, Senior Lecturer, Global Studies & Governance (GSG) Programme, School of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).

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