‘Holding exams, bringing education back to former state not the same’
After a year and a half, the country's schools finally reopened, and all students were welcomed back to classrooms on September 12. But according to Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, absenteeism has been growing in secondary schools for the last two weeks.
Against this backdrop, The Daily Star sat with Brac University (BracU) Professor Emeritus Manzoor Ahmed, also founding director of the university's Institute of Educational Development, to shed light on the matter.
The Daily Star (DS): Attendance rate was 67 percent at secondary schools on September 12 but dropped to 56 percent 15 days later. What may be the reasons?
Manzoor Ahmed: We all welcomed the decision to reopen schools, maintaining health guidelines.
Two-thirds of the students went to school (on September 12), which was not satisfactory, and even that number is dropping. This declining attendance rate is a matter of great concern.
Students want to join classes, but their families are concerned about different issues. Many studies and surveys show that students and their guardians are facing a financial crisis, so many children are joining work to support their family, which is child labour. On top of that, child marriage is on the rise.
Many of the students may even drop out of schools.
DS: There is a concern that many of the absent students will not return to schools, what do you think?
Manzoor: This is a big problem. We talked about dropouts and other issues when schools were closed, but government officials said students are doing assignments and attending online classes.
They further said officials are in touch with students, and there is no real problem. But now, we can see impacts of the closure.
DS: What steps can the government take to bring students back?
Manzoor: Only directions from high-officials will not work; we need to engage in conversations. There should be local committees comprising guardians, local representatives and school management committees to communicate about how to bring back students not attending classes.
DS: Did you come across any prior government plan to avoid possible absenteeism following reopening?
Manzoor: Education officials always tried to propagate the idea that everything is fine, and there will not be much of a problem.
There were some guidelines and directions, but those alone will not work. A guideline was prepared to reopen schools, but there was no recovery plan, which is essential, as students lost almost two academic years.
It seems that the government is taking steps to hold public and other exams, as if that is their main job. Holding exams and bringing education back to its former state are two different matters.
Ten educationists in a joint statement recently emphasised bringing students back to classes, saying that utmost importance should be given on ensuring students' safety and mental wellbeing.
There should not be any pressure of exams immediately after reopening, as during the last one and a half years, students had to face different kinds of adversity.
They also proposed prolonging the current academic year and rapidly assessing how prepared students are academically, among other necessary steps.
We hope the government will pay heed to these utmost important matters. The situation is unprecedented, and traditional approaches to deal with this issue will not be enough.