The main thrust of all discussions about the fallout from the pandemic has centred mostly on health and the economy. That is understandable because from the existential point of view both are essential. Here the words, 'existential' and 'essential' are, however, not juxtaposed in the Sartrean sense of the terms with their particular philosophical connotations. They are used purely in their mundane sense as the adjectives of the words 'existence' and 'essence'. In fact, health is fundamental to our existence; so is economy which creates work for people to get their sustenance and shelter from. As such, when the pandemic struck this part of the world, people's movement was restricted by lockdowns. The emphasis was on saving people's lives at the expense of the economy, that is, work. But the economic shutdowns had to be withdrawn within months to avert a famine-like situation. Though normality gradually returned to life in general through resumption of economic activities, the educational arena remained shut. That boys and girls were not going to schools and colleges was not considered as serious as a non-functioning economy. In fact, the fear of the school-going children's contracting the pandemic through attending classes then dominated everyone's thought. And the issue of their education did take a back seat. The perceptions seem to have changed now. Healthcare and hunger may be of ultimate importance to some, but it may not be so others.
Long ten months have meanwhile gone by since the educational institutions were closed in mid-March last year. Many school and college students have for the last few months been voicing their concerns over the precious time of their educational life thus lost. Their future has become uncertain. Students and their guardians even questioned the wisdom of keeping the educational institutions closed when restrictions over all other social and economic activities have long been withdrawn. Such worries were not without their reasons. But we cannot at the same time be oblivious of the fact that Bangladesh is not the lone sufferer due to the pandemic. The entire world has been affected by it. No country has been spared the negative consequences of the pandemic. Globally, the highest priority has been given to saving people's lives. Education, as a result, has been reduced to distance learning through online classes in the advanced economies with developed IT-infrastructure.
But in Bangladesh, school and college students in the rural areas may have their genuine grievances as they are deprived of much of the modern facilities. But those enjoying the urban privileges also have their complaints. It is the long confinement within their houses that has put a lot of strain on the urban children's mental health. Keeping the students engaged in their studies online, or through other forms of distance learning using radio or television did not prove to be so effective for them. They are suffering from psychological problems like depression, fatigue and inertia and so on and so forth. The rural students, on the other hand, do also have their complaints. But those are about not having the privileges; and not about having too much of those! So, what is the solution?
The government seems to have finally reached a decision on opening the schools in February. Of course, the mandatory health protocols will be maintained, it has been assured.
The better off, the urban schoolboys and girls and their guardians should now be relieved that, finally, the government is going to open the schools and the colleges.
But still some other guardians, as could be learnt from their interview with the BBC Bangla service the other day, came up with a rather lukewarm response to the government move to open the schools so early! After all, we have already lost a year. We could then wait for one or two more months before exposing the children to the pandemic!
Perceptions vary. So, the government has to strike a balance between what is existential and essential and what is not.