September 13, 2021
Dhaka, Bangladesh – For the first time in 18 months, Adnan Hasan finds himself wearing his school uniform – a crisp white shirt and blue pants – and standing in a queue. Schools reopened after 543 days of closure as the country’s virus situation eases and more people are vaccinated.
The fifth-grader, wearing a mask, waited before the arched gate of capital Dhaka’s Udayan School on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of children in Bangladesh returned to their classrooms after 543 days – one of the world’s longest coronavirus shutdowns.
As children waited to enter Udayan School, two workers stood at the gate, dispensing hand sanitiser to those entering, while the other checked their temperatures with a thermometer.
The last time Hasan passed through this gate in March last year, he was not standing in a queue nor was his temperature checked. They also did not need to wear a mask.
But the pandemic changed everything, forcing millions of children like him across the world to stay home.
In a report last week, UNICEF warned that prolonged school closures during the COVID crisis accentuated “alarming inequities” for more than 430 million children in South Asia.
“School closures in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to transition to remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability,” UNICEF’s regional director, George Laryea-Adjei, said in a statement.
“As a result, children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey.”
Now that he was back in school, Hasan was ecstatic.
“I can’t describe in words how I am feeling getting back to my school,” he said. “I am meeting all my friends after ages. It’s great.”
Like Hasan, thousands of students of primary and secondary schools across Bangladesh returned to their classes, some in Dhaka decorated with balloons and ribbons.
Many schools welcomed their students with candies and flowers as children hugged each other in excitement.
Education Minister Dipu Moni on Sunday warned against any lax enforcement of safety measures in the schools.
“The students of the first to fourth grades, and sixth to ninth grades, will attend classes once a week for an initial period of three weeks,” she said.
Moni said those who are scheduled to sit for public exams at the end of fifth, 10th and 12th grades will attend classes every day, adding that all other classes will resume gradually.
According to Bangladesh’s telecom operators’ association, only 41 percent of its 169 million population have smartphones, with students in rural districts suffering further due to a lack of high-speed internet.
A study conducted by the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC found out that about 56 percent of the country’s students were not connected with online or recorded classes during the pandemic.
“For these underprivileged students, there is no option but to attend in-person classes to get the lessons. So I believe the government has made a very good decision by reopening the schools,” educationist Syed Md Golam Faruk.
Students also agreed. “Yes, there were online classes. We even got promoted to the next grade through our online exams. But there is no alternative to in-person classes,” Zarif Raihan, a student of Dhaka’s Monipur High School.
“We attend classes to see our friends, chit-chat with them, hang out in the school canteen or in the school field. We don’t attend classes just for the sake of learning. Unfortunately, online classes took away all the fun part of learning,” he said.
Raihan said, “Things have changed a lot [since the pandemic], but the joy of being in the school premises remains the same.”