Post Covid-19: Will the Girls Return to School?

“Did you know that many of the schools are already closed? Why don’t you seek the principal to close our school too? We are distressed!” was mentioning a parent just two weeks back in mid-March. It was perfect to go to the school, take classes and see the students coming regularly in the school during the first two weeks of March though I could understand the situation in China, Thailand, Singapore and some other ASEAN countries as they already closed the educational institutions due to the coronavirus. Everything was in daily newspaper. There was clear tension and dilemma among the school authorities, teachers and parents on closing the schools as it involves many students’ future of education.

In a country like Bangladesh, where the government, development partners and non-government organizations put their efforts, for decades, to make education accessible for millions of poverty-stricken people and ensure maximum girls’ enrollment in primary school, it was a tough task to close the institutions but because of the public safety, the government of Bangladesh did that. This escaped some few questions for us. How will we pay the price for this pandemic, and who will be the ones to suffer the most in the education industry? The simple answer is, the girls and women will be the ones to suffer the most while it comes about education industry.

In a recent document UNESCO reported that, due to the coronavirus, schools and other educational institutes globally faced closure and that covered around 188 countries. This closure along effected around 1,543,446,152 learners that comprise at 89.5% of total enrolled learners. The number is relatively more, I assume, as many of the educational institutions in Bangladesh, for example: religious schools are not registered, and the number of the students are unknown and without any doubt, the number is huge. Many of the girls from rural and poverty ridden background are also a part of those religious institutions in Bangladesh.smany of the students are already prone to drop out due to the financial problem. From the local newspaper and practical experience, it is normally assumable that this pandemic will force a critical number of populations to resign their jobs and bring poverty. This is directly linked to the schooling of those vulnerable learners as many of them may fail to manage the tuition fees and associated cost for their education. This will equally cause a pressure on the educators to obtain their salaries on time. The World Economic Forum recently warned that coronavirus fallout may be worse for women than men and we are in tension, especially for girl child, who will represent the first to drop out.

Learning from the situation of Ebola affecting developing countries, we can assume many of the school going girls will be dropped out that might lead them for early marriage, sexual exploitation and to be victims of modern slavery. Many of them might be shifted to income generation process to support the family to survive. On the other hand, even if they remain at house, many of them may turn into victims of domestic violence, rape and mental abuse.

Now, as we discuss all of these, have we ever had a thought on the emergency plan for education? Have we ever thought of these days where we all are staying apart and at a critical moment when many of our students are expecting to complete their academic year? May be the answer is “No” based on the current circumstances. Many of the academic institutions are until now having their virtual classes over Zoom, Jitsi Meet, Skype and other internet-based platforms. Many already printed the materials or emailed to the parents, but the number of these institutions are quite low. Among the numerous reasons behind this reasonable number is the lack of infrastructure and resources. Even the teachers are also not capable enough to handle such virtual classes, despite the availability of the resources.

This inefficiency of many of us forcibly reminds of my participation in Asia Europe Foundations 15th ClassNet conference of 2019, where the topic was the role and readiness of the teachers for sustainable development education and the usage of artificial intelligence in conducting classes. The conference indulged us in various ways to teach our students on sustainable development and how we could use numerous technological tools and artificial intelligence in conducting the classes. That conference was also addressing the possibility of classes being conducted with a robot, and without a teacher.

That notion of the conference, our “readiness” as an educator, is crucial today. It was rising a question in our mind and challenging us to think whether we are prepared to tackle the future of education or not. May be that time we did not think much but today, many of us are now feeling frustrated thinking of the students’ future. As days are passing, many critical questions are inevitably arising in our unconscious mind; will the girls come back to the institutions? Will they be capable to acknowledge what they had acquired in the past? Will they be mentally fit to resume the education? Will we be able to minimize the learning gap because of this pandemic?

Before tomorrow, many of the initiatives are on the rise from the government, to keep the students on track. Bangladesh government started telecasting high school level classes through “Shamshad Television”, dedicated for telecasting the national assembly and primary school class telecasting are in process. Despite these initiatives, many of the students will remain out of this part just because they might not have a television at their home.

Investing on business, education curriculum, content and all other existing traditional improvement measures will not be sufficient to address the subsequent challenges of education. Today, while we are talking about “re-arranging” human lifestyle, inventing medicine to tackle coronavirus like terrible crisis, finding ways to recover economy, business loss and unemployment we should also talk about how to “re-arrange” the existing educational processes and develop regular alternatives of the teachers, so that the learners themselves can be more autonomous to tackle coronavirus like challenges in future. These measurements of sustainable and alternative education processes are immediate for everyone and especially for people of low-income countries. While we seek to live, we also should seek to live longer and only sustainable education with gender equality can make sure of that.

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