During my recent venture to the char areas of Bogura, I found students spending the days of the pandemic going without any form of online or offline classes. They do not have to attend school now and most of their parents are unable to teach them as most do not have any formal education.
Young people in most of the char areas are either playing on the fields, or loitering around the neighbourhood. Their parents are busy navigating the pandemic, trying to source food and manage their livelihoods. But most people are worried that this lack of schooling will result in higher dropout rates.
Earlier this year I and some fellow journalists from northern districts visited a remote char on the Jamuna river under Sirajganj district for a field training purpose. Back then many people in the chars said they are doing better financially, thanks to agricultural development, they can now produce a variety of crops like maize, chilli, wheat, lentil, pumpkins, cucumbers, etc in large quantities. The people there simply urged the government to develop communication, healthcare, education and policing system in the char areas.
But the pandemic has greatly shifted that balance. Those living in char areas are now trying to make ends meet and students stuck there, many with no TV, internet access, or electricity, are not getting to attend online classes. The pandemic is making people more and more dependent on virtual space in their day to day life. Children of urban and semi-urban areas in Bangladesh have access to online education. But internet and television network is still quite poor in island and coastal areas. So, children of these areas are deprived of online education.
Due to a prolonged flood, over 400 primary schools were kept shut for a month in Bogura and Gaibandha last year. Nearly three million children living in the country's char, coastal, and low-lying areas might be deprived of online classes.
The people in these areas were also dealt a double-blow after the recent cyclone 'Amphan' damaged many schools in coastal areas. And if the shutdown continues for a long time, locals fear the students may not be able to finish their yearly academic syllabus.
And now the big question is what will the government's policy be when conducting examinations of the children in char areas?
According to the Gaibandha district education offices, there are more than 111 educational institutions-- 100 primary schools, 8 high schools and three madrasas -- in the char areas of Jamuna, Teesta and Brahmaputra river basin under Gaibandha's Sadar, Saghata, Fulchari, and Sundarganj upazilas. More than 30,000 students are living in the char areas.
In Bogura, there are more than 68 educational institutions in char areas under Bogura's Sariakandi and Sonatal upazila. More than 15,000 students live in the Jamuna basin in Bogura, according to the district
While the government has initiated online education since the pandemic was declared, it seems students in remote areas are being deprived of this basic right. As such, the government should rethink their existing education policy for char and coastal area's students.
On May 19, 2020, the European Union (EU) transferred EUR 46.125 million to Bangladesh government to support key national reforms in primary, vocational and technical education sectors. The grant also focuses on development of human capital, the eradication of poverty and inequalities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Thus, we can safely say the government has a grant that aims to reform primary education sectors with its partners. And it is time they make virtual education accessible to those living in inaccessible places.
Mostafa Shabuj is a journalist based in Bogura and works as the district correspondent of The Daily Star.