As Bangladesh heads back to school, many students are missing from classrooms

Kamal Ahmed Majumder School and College in Dhaka’s Rupnagar reopened for in-person classes along with all other educational institutions up to class XII on Sept 12. But the attendance rate so far has been 70 percent on average.

Kazi Nafia Rahman, Staff Correspondent Staff
Published : 15 Sept 2021, 07:33 PM
Updated : 15 Sept 2021, 07:35 PM

Mojaharul Islam, headmaster of the institution which caters to students mostly from low-income families, doubts whether the remaining 30 percent will ever come back to the classroom.   

“Many have gone back to their villages. Some girls have been married off while other students have taken up jobs," he said.

"Some students may drop out of school as not all of them are solvent.”

Surveys had predicted huge dropouts amid the pandemic. There is no clear picture of the real situation now just days after the reopening, but the signs are still ominous.

The government said it is collecting information from all the institutions to determine how many students have dropped out.

The presence of students was satisfactory at the top institutions in Dhaka, but many students are still missing from the schools dominated by children from poor households. The institutions outside the capital showed a similar pattern.

Teachers fear many of the students will possibly never return to the classroom.

At Kids Campus in Mirpur-12, the number of students has halved from what it was before the pandemic.   

Many students are giving up on their studies due to financial troubles, said Rakib Hasan, director of the school.

Students of Chattogram Government Muslim High School wearing face masks queue to walk into the institution following the health rules for first in-person classes in one and a half years amid the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, Sept 12, 2021. Photo: Suman Babu

“Many families’ incomes have shrunk due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some parents are not sending their children [back to school] considering the costs involved. Others are thinking of sending their children to school next year instead of spending the money for the three months left of this year. Many have moved back to their home villages.”

“The pandemic has caused learning losses to many students. Some have stopped their studies. Some have taken up jobs. Some girls have been wed off.

"So, many students will never be back.”

Students are ecstatic on their return to first in-person classes in one and a half years amid the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, Sept 12, 2021. Photo: Suman Babu

At Dewaner Char High School in Narsingdi’s Belabo, the presence of SSC students is 60 to 65 percent, class X 70 percent, class VII 85 percent and class VI 80 percent, according to Acting Headmaster Islam Uddin.     

Some of the boys are driving rickshaws or vans, or have joined garment factories while many of the girls are now settling into married life.

“We visited some of their homes and found out that they joined garment factories as workers. Parents said they would submit assignments later. Some of them have submitted assignments,” the headmaster said.

Shakib Al Hasan sells street food at his father’s makeshift shop during rains on the bank of the Buriganga river in Old Dhaka on Sep 26, 2020. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

“We are communicating with them on phone to bring them back. We are going to their homes and talking to the parents.”   

The picture was worse at online classes, with only 5 percent of students in attendance due to a lack of electronic devices or internet connection and data, Islam Uddin said.

Most of the students were out of online classes at Mangalkata Government Primary School in Sunamganj’s Shalla, said Headmaster Dwip Narayan Das. As much as 50 to 60 percent of students have returned to in-person classes on average. 

“Those who haven’t returned will join classes, but it cannot be said whether all of them will come back.” 

As many as 300 students were admitted to Golden Future School in Dhaka’s Pallabi in January 2020. Now, only 60 to 65 students are attending classes, said Headmaster Delwar Hossain. 

Delwar runs another institution – Paradise Kindergarten and High School. It had 500 students before the pandemic, but the number has now dropped to 150.

The absent students had not attended online classes either. “They don’t have the capacity to continue learning in this pandemic.”

Up to 25 students have not returned to Saptibari High School in Lalmonirhat’s Aditmari, Adarsha High School in Dhaka’s Mirpur, Khaspara Government Primary School in Sherpur’s Sadar Upazila and Rajbari High School, according to teachers.

In Dhaka, Motijheel Ideal School and College, Government Laboratory High School, and Residential Model College have 85 to 93 percent of their students back to classes.

“It’s better to be together with all in classes than to be alone at home. So, they are preferring school,” said Asma Begum, principal of Residential Model College.

Labourers work without maintaining physical distance at the Keraniganj dockyard. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

“Students won’t actually drop out of the top institutions in Dhaka. The schools in rural areas will suffer dropouts. Students from families that are struggling financially will take up a job,” said Abu Sayeed Bhuyian, headmaster of Government Laboratory High School.

Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said only regular lessons can make up for the learning loss caused by the pandemic.

Asked about the dropouts, he said they are making a database with information from the schools and colleges.

“The picture will be clear once we get information from all the institutions.”

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