The school closure, since 18 March 2020, due to COVID-19, has disrupted all forms of education in Bangladesh. The special programme for the migrants, particularly for the Rohingya population, is also disrupted. The government of Bangladesh has involved the stakeholders and developed education in emergency response plan considering the immediate, medium-term, and long-term priorities.

One of the largest centralised education systems impacted by the crisis

Bangladesh has one of the largest centralised education systems in the world, with 38.6 million students. Of them, 3.6 million in pre-primary; 18 million in the primary; 13 million in secondary and 4 million in tertiary education.[1] According to Bangladesh Education Statistics, 2018, there are 0.17 million educational institutions from primary to the tertiary level, where 1.2 million teachers are deployed.[2] Besides, there are a significant number of learners enrolled in religious education institutions (Ebtedayee section of Madrasah and independent Ebtedayee Madrasah), non-formal education institutions, and skills development centres.[3]

The civil society’s immediate response to the COVID19 pandemic included communication with teachers and learners, supporting continuity of learning using television, internet, radio, and mobile phone, developing a collective plan by engaging the concerned stakeholders, including local education group (LEG) and education clusters represented by government, development partners, and civil society.

As a national coalition, CAMPE has engaged in the process in terms of networking, informing stakeholders, developing/generating grassroots evidence, and influencing the decision-makers. In terms of networking with organisations and engaged in the state-led process, CAMPE has been involved in the Education Sector Plan, LEG & Education Cluster, and other state-led and CSO-led processes – e.g., EduHub created under the Prime Minister’s Office by Access to Information (A2i) team. It has also engaged with the regional and global process initiated by APRCEM, ASPBAE, CCNGO, GAML, GCE, GPE (including CSO-2), Global Education Coalition, ILO, INEE, PRIA, SAMEO, SCI, UIS, UIL, UNESCO, UNESCAP, UNICEF, 3ie, etc.

A civil society Rapid response survey

On the COVID-19 response issue, CAMPED has engaged in the process by taking several initiatives to protect the rights to education for the most marginalized including strengthening its relationships with members, partner organisation, teachers’ association, think-tanks, and media. It has informed different stakeholders on the progress and challenges in terms of child protection and continuity of education in emergency and right to education. In doing so, CAMPE has developed/ generated pieces of evidence by carryout a Rapid Response Survey where 115 NGOs and 11 Teachers Associations have participated. It has shared the salient features with the stakeholders and facilitated a platform for engagement in dialogue and debate for identifying the critical issues and policy implications. As part of the Influencing policies, CAMPE has submitted a Memorandum/Charter of Demands to the Finance Minister and circulate an Open Appeal to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and continued its lobby and engagement with the with champions in government and CSOs.

The Rapid Response survey shows that about 2.8 million learners are the beneficiary of different education initiatives, including non-formal education and remedial interventions of the mainstream education programmes run by 115 NGOs have been affected.[4] According to respondents of the survey, about half of the learners have been communicated over the telephone to address the trauma and stress.

The anticipated challenges due to school closures include dealing with trauma and psychological challenges, learning continuity, and issues related to school reopening and catch-up with new normal. There is enormous Learning Loss due to discontinuation of education by school closures, leading to increased risk to achieving grade-level learning outcomes and assessment, and inequality in learning linked with the household economic condition and parental ability as a caregiver. Readiness for school reopening includes following the joint guideline prepared by UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, and WFP.

A stronger impact on the already most marginalised

CAMPE’s survey shows that the children from the most marginalized face trauma/stress-related challenges, inadequate access to distance learning opportunities, lack of congenial learning environment at home, and lack of caregivers. Many non-literate parents and guardians are not aware of their role as caregivers to deal with trauma and facilitating learning at home. Household food security status and access to nutritious food will also affect the learning ability of the children.

The challenges on reopening school include increased absenteeism, irregular attendance and engagement in paid or non-paid work, the opportunity cost for education may lead to increased dropouts, child labour, gender-based violence and out of school children. There might be increased early marriage and early pregnancy. Children from different excluded groups like ethnic and linguistic minorities, persons with disabilities, and people living in difficult to access areas (e.g., hill, forest, island, marchland, Teagarden, remote location), urban slums and urban peripheries face specific challenges related to each form of exclusions. Food security and nutrition-related problem are common to all types of marginalization.

Teachers also face challenges. There are issues related to the completion of syllabus/lessons on time, lack of expertise to use ICT and willingness or ability to teach online, alternative assessment and examination, disconnect with learners due to social distancing, risk of losing a job or timely and decent pay, particularly the non-government and low fee private schools.

Besides, teacher engagement and development, health and nutrition in school’s children, hygiene, safety, and psychosocial issues, uncertainty regarding non-formal education, and increase in youth unemployment are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need for a 2-3 years’ recovery plan

CAMPE recommended developing at least a 2-3-year plan (2020-23) to deal with the disruption of the academic calendar. The plan should consider a flexible path to deal with learners’ mental health, completing lessons, adjusting exams and vacations, and supporting learners.

The plan should further follow the results of the survey, recommending extra classes (offering incentives to teachers) and less attention to public examinations and testing [such as Primary Education Completion Examination (PECE) and Junior Secondary Certificate (JSC) examination]. These may be postponed or held in an abridged form covering fewer key subjects such as Bangla and math for PECE and languages, math and science for JSC, thus completing these in a short time.

Despite the many challenges linked to COVID-19, the crisis has created a space for thinking out of the box for the teaching-learning process using distance learning mode. Distance learning can deliver condensed and remedial learning support to the students, and is also a learning opportunity for teachers. Many initiatives were taken by Access to Information (A2i) like TV and Internet-based solutions. The rapid response survey recommended continuing complementary TV-radio, internet, and mobile-based lessons, with teachers’ skills development & institutional e-infrastructure development.

Part of the recovery plan should also look at an increase the scope of stipends, school meals, and extra school-based lessons for students as school reopens. The survey recommended expanding the school meal’s reach, stipends to students, health checks, and mentoring of students. It has emphasized the proper implementation of the proposed steps of the education recovery plan and the appropriate use of extra funds. Effective implementation would require decentralized planning and management in each Upazila (sub-district) involving local administration and close collaboration with NGOs and CSOs.

The study emphasized the urgency to rethink the post-crisis ‘new normal’ in terms of mitigation, recovery, quality-equity focus with better use and integration of ICT, better teacher support and performance, and reform in student assessment, non-formal second chance, involving research institutions and NGOs.

Adequate investments in education needed more than ever

Finally, the results of the survey show a strong call for an adequate investment of resources to make online and ICT-based learning a regular feature in schools. It requires ICT infrastructure, connectivity, broadband access, availability of devices such as tablets, ed-tech support, and ed-tech training for teachers are necessary for this purpose. Plans should be made for all educational institutions to become free Wi-Fi hotspots for students and teachers. Access to ICT devices for the most marginalized is critical too.

To protect education gains and prevent reversal, the education budget needs to be raised to 15% of the total budget as part of the national recovery budget, ensuring better and targeted use of resources. The study has also highlighted the interconnectedness of education interventions with other socio-economic factors and links with the social safety-net programmes. The increased allocation should go for supporting mental health, school meal, ICT for education, and pedagogical training of the teachers. During the pandemic, the cyclone Amphan has affected the southwestern part of Bangladesh, where school repair and maintenance and reconstruction are also an issue. Based on the lessons learned from the agriculture sector in Bangladesh, an increased allocation will require for action, research in education and CSO monitoring.

In the follow up of the crisis, the finance minister has announced the national budget on 11 June 2020, where 11.69% of the national budget has been allocated to education. Besides, GPE has approved USD 15 million for the ‘education in emergency’ against its indicative allocation of USD 20 million. Additional supports, including loans and grants, are being considered by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and development partners on specific areas.

Whether these funds will be sufficient to address the multiple issues is yet to be seen. CAMPE will remain vigilant and keep monitoring and advocate to avoid going backwards for the right to education for all in Bangladesh.

By: K M Enamul Hoque, Deputy Director CAMPE and National Coordinator, Education OutLoud, Advocacy for Social Accountability, Bangladesh

[1] Annual Primary School Census 2018; BANBEIS, 2018

[2] Bangladesh Education Statistics 2018, BENBIES, Ministry of Education.

[3] Bangladesh Education Statistics 2018, BENBIES; Directory of NGOs with Education Programmeme, CAMPE, 2016

[4] Rapid Response Survey on the impact of COVID-19 on education, CAMPE, 2020

This blog is part of our COVID-19 blog series aiming to highlight issues affecting education, learners and education activists worldwide, including displaced populations, inclusive and adult education. We are also highlighting issues from regional perspectives in Africa, Latin America and several blogs will focus on youth. Stay tuned to our COVID-19 webinar series for more in-depth discussions.

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.