For more than two years Covid disaster has been ravaging the world. Even vaccination in many cases can not address the Covid-19 challenge completely as different variants of coronavirus are putting the global health system into risk. Undeniably, in the wake of unprecedented Covid-19 lives and livelihoods have undergone drastic shocks. All the sectors have experienced huge loss but the loss in education sector has superseded that of the other sectors.
The global education has suffered the unprecedented closure amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As per the report of the UNICEF, nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries have been severely affected due to uncertain school closure. Gender divide has been exacerbated amid the school closure. The students from low and lower middle-income countries have been the worst affected.
In Bangladesh, it is estimated that about 40 million students of different level of education have endured the brunt of Covid blow. School closure not only has affected learning activities but also has had a serious impact on health, protection and psychological well-being of students. Experts opine that the growth of social and cultural skills of the young learners may be greatly disrupted due to school closure.
However, a couple of months back the country resumed the in-person education after a long closure. Amid reopening the most priority has been given to complete the pending examinations of different education levels. Though the long closure has impacted students and teachers severely, in-person education raises a ray of hope that education sector would be able to come out of its crisis in the years to come.
But things get frustrating in the wake of Omicron variant of the Covid-19. Omicron is spreading faster than any other variants hit hard the humanity until this. Not only that, evidences claim that there are many people who are already vaccinated, are being infected again with Omicron variant in the world. By the time many countries are experiencing omicron shock.
Bangladesh is not the exception. Amid the rapid transmission of omicron variant across the country, the government has announced the closure of the in-person education for the next two weeks which will continue till 6 February. But the concern raises from different angles that if the Omicron crisis goes unchecked, the possibility of the opening the in-person education may be prolonged.
Amid the sudden in-person school closure due to the rapid transmission of omicron variant the Ministry of Education has directed the concerned of educational institutions to continue online education. In the pandemic, online education has claimed maximum learning achievement in some countries. But most of the countries who experienced the online trend for the first time have not seen the expected learning outcomes in many cases.
The previous findings correspond that online education in our country has not been able to bring the expected outcome. Research findings show that more than sixty per cent school students were left from the new trend of education and those who kept continuing lost their interest in on-air education. Experts claim that virtual education made digital divide exposing a great blow to the poor and marginalized children who hardly had scopes to attend remote class due to many unavoidable reasons.
In most cases online education failed to address inclusive learning. It was heard that initiatives must be taken to make virtual education fruitful. But many more challenges in introducing virtual education to the optimum level are still unaddressed. It is evident that teachers conduct online class just to complete their responsibility but hardly have any concern whether the class is effective and inclusive.
It is obvious that Omicron variant is affecting education not only in Bangladesh, many countries have shut down education and other sectors temporarily to contain the spread of Omicron. But according to the education experts, instability in education will affect the learning outcomes of students.
During the previous closure we experienced that child marriage rose significantly. On top of that, students from the poor and marginalized families found no options to back to school again as they were involved in informal works to support their families. The hard-earned enrollment at primary and secondary education was to an extent disrupted. However, it was the expectation from every corner that individual initiatives from every educational institute would be able to address many challenges caused by the pandemic.
It is no denial that the closure of the in-person education has increased school dropout. Save the Children reports that almost ten million children across the world is likely to not back to school. Again, the closure caused by Omicron blow may deepen the education catastrophe that this sector has experienced over the last two years.
School closure not only disrupts teaching and learning but also affects the livelihoods of the teachers of private educational institutes in many ways. Previous findings reveal that teachers of private institutes suffered to barely earn to maintain their families. Not only that, many teachers lost their jobs in the wake of pandemic.
There were many others who were compelled to change their profession as they had to undergo huge financial difficulties during the long uncertain school closure. Contrarily, many teachers working at government institutions find scopes to avert their job responsibilities in the name of Covid excuse. This is really frustrating when we see that teachers overlook their responsibilities and stand against the interest of the students to pursue their own advantages. But can they deny that they have no existence without students at the institutions?
At public universities it is common to notice that many are doing power-exercise making the life of the learners a mess. More often we hear that female students are being sexually harassed by some ignoble teachers in the university. Not only that, many teachers are involved in corruption and unethical practices.
In many cases the question may raise; are they teachers or political leaders? There may be many university teachers who hold ranks and fames but hardly involve themselves in teaching students.
At the eleventh hour of the exams they take one or two classes and complete the course. Cannot it be called power-exercising? Obviously, they are doing the game of power-exercise as if they had no accountability to the state.
We cannot solely claim that Covid wave is the only reason to frustrate our education sector. In these days more often different news sources state that vice chancellors of most public universities are involved in unethical practices in the country. A number of allegations including irregularities in recruitment, and promotion of teachers and employees and nepotism in providing jobs have been brought against VCs over the years.
Not only that, they are doing misappropriation of university funds and many more unethical practices which expose a severe catastrophe in the academic arena. No doubt, our vice chancellors are honorable but there may be a question; how honorable they are when dreams of the nation are shattered at their hands. It is alleged that tertiary education is not safe at all to the covetous and corrupted vice chancellors. Their misdeeds hinder the flow of quality education in the country.
Certainly, the Covid blow to education sector can be tackled by adopting outcome-based strategies. It is laudable that the present government is emphasizing on bringing significant changes to the curriculum at every educational level to mitigate the educational catastrophe caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only that, teachers are trained potentially to turn them into resources for the nation.
By the time, the government not only has increased the infrastructure facilities for education but also taken many pragmatic initiatives to produce efficient human resource. Along with the government’s initiatives international education-related organizations are working to mitigate the impact of school closures, address learning losses and adapt education systems, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. They claim that there is no alternative to prioritizing education recovery to avert the looming generational catastrophe.
Despite all the initiatives the education catastrophe may be deepened not only for Covid blow but also the instability in the education sector and the questioning attitudes of the teachers. It is true that the loss of school closure may be addressed with some pragmatic steps and strategies but how far the initiatives of the government will work if teachers work in the non-professional way and overlook the accountability to the nation for pursuing their own advantages.
Writer: Alaul Alam teaches at Prime University. He is also research scholar at the IBS. Email: [email protected]
BDST: 2108 HRS, JAN 26, 2022