School Reopening: Cautious optimism all around
Fourteen-year-old Shahabul Alam never thought a day would come where he would be impatient to get back into the classroom.
The daily grind of waking up early, attending the school assembly, concentrating for long hours, being called on in class and slogging through traffic to get back home is now seeming wholly inviting after about solitary 18 months at home with unrestricted access to video games, television and marathon online classes.
"I started to miss my school and seeing my friends. I couldn't be happier when the announcement came that we would be going back to school," said the Class-8 student of Shahid Police Smrity High School and College in Mirpur.
His father, Md Jahirul Alam, is not as excited about the return to the classroom from September 12: he is worried whether the school would be able to maintain the health protocols needed to keep the mutating coronavirus at bay.
"Coronavirus has not stopped spreading yet. I know it is extremely important for our children to return to school as their lifestyle has been greatly disrupted by this long vacation. But maintaining the health guidelines is paramount," Alam said.
Shahabul's school is taking the matter just as seriously.
It has formed several committees to monitor the implementation of the education ministry's directives including ensuring social distancing, mask use and sanitisation facilities.
Sinks have been placed in different corners, an isolation room has been readied and disinfectant chambers installed at the school gates. All security guards have been equipped with thermal guns to check the temperature of students before entry.
"We are taking every measure to keep our students safe," said Md Jakir Hossain, principal of Shahid Police Smrity High School and College, adding that he will ensure everyone wears masks within the school premises.
Monipur High School at Ibrahimpur is being as painstaking.
Besides complying with all the directives, the school will ensure that all the students maintain at least six feet distance from each other while in class, said Shafiqur Rahman, headmaster of Monipur High School.
Bhashantek School and College is going a step further for the students' wellbeing: it is taking preparations for another virus that is running amok in parallel.
"Dengue is now spreading like wildfire in this area -- we are cleaning up the entire premises for the safety of our students," said Nilufar Yasmin, assistant headmaster of Bhashantek School and College.
She, however, admitted that implementing hygiene and social distancing guidelines would be a major challenge.
"Children generally do not want to wear masks. They also usually play different types of games during breaks -- it will be difficult to maintain distance during these breaks."
Yasmin had another concern: a large number of drop-outs for the pandemic.
"We know hundreds of families who have decided to postpone their children's education due to loss of income. We will reopen our schools but we may never get these children back to the classroom," she added.
Little Flower International School, a secondary school in East Kajipara, has been a casualty of the phenomenon.
Before the pandemic began, the school had 512 students. Now, just 260 of them are left, according to its Headmaster Tofael Ahmed Tanjir.
"Many families discontinued their children's education or moved back to their villages. Very few students could attend online classes and most of these families did not pay their tuition fees. However, we continued to pay our teachers by spending our last savings."
Despite the severe fund crisis, the school has taken the same measures as the others.
However, it will be challenging for the school's 27 teachers and three support staff to monitor that the hundreds of students obey the hygiene rules, Tanjir said.
Md Borhan Uddin, the chief coordinator of the association of secondary level assistant teachers, said the schools should have been opened a lot earlier: thousands of teachers would have been able to save their jobs.
"Irreparable damage has been done to our education sector," he said, while calling for Covid-19 vaccination for teachers on a priority basis such that schools can remain open.
Contacted, Syed Md Golam Faruk, director-general of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), said: "We have already prioritised vaccination for teachers. I think in a month or two all teachers in Bangladesh will be vaccinated."
Parents though are calling inoculating the 5 crore students in schools, colleges and universities too.
At present, there is no vaccination coverage for those aged less than 25 years.
"How can we expect children to wear masks all the time? Even adults falter after a certain point. If the government could arrange vaccines for children, we would have felt quite relaxed," said Safun Akhter, a guardian.
But for students, such matters are farthest in their minds.
"I am not afraid of Covid-19 -- I want to go to school again as I used to before the pandemic," said Shahabul, who is rapt in preparation for the return to normalcy in his life from next week.
RETURN TO CLASSROOM DELAYED IN FLOOD-HIT AREAS
Schools situated in the flood-affected areas including Kurigram, Gaibandha, Jamalpur, Bogura, Pabna, Sirajganj, Tangail, Manikganj, Rajbari, Faridpur and Shariatpur will not reopen on September 12, said the DSHE yesterday.
Many of the schools in the flood-affected area are underwater, DSHE Director Shahedul Khabir Chowdhury told The Daily Star yesterday.
"After getting reports from our field-level officials, we have asked the schools in the flood-hit areas to stay shut."
The schools will reopen immediately after the flood situation improves, he added.