The UN and World Bank has strongly argued for reopening of schools. Germany and France announced fresh lockdown. Interestingly, neither country announced school closures during the restrictions. The situation in Bangladesh is opposite.
The announcement made by our education ministry extending the closure of all educational institutions up to November 14 and the call by UN and World Bank for reopening schools during the pandemic are diametrically opposite.
The call made by two global bodies on Wednesday for reopening of schools may sound reckless at a time when Europe is scrambling to fight the second wave of the virus outbreak and the Trump administration announcing recently that the US cannot control the spread of the deadly virus.
Many other countries still reeling under the first attack are in fresh fear of a second one and global health experts cannot forecast when the pandemic can be tamed.
The decision announced by our education ministry on Thursday seems more reasonable considering the pandemic situation in Bangladesh. The decision follows the recent advice made by the national technical advisory committee.
Yet, the call for reopening the schools offers our policymakers food for thought to reassess the strategy for the future of the students.
Students across the globe are among the worst victims of the pandemic that forced the shutdown of all educational institutions along with the economies.
After two-three months of the closure, the economies had to be reopened across the globe. People are coming out of homes every day for livelihood. But, things are not the same for the children.
The children in many countries including Bangladesh are still kept confined at homes and it is still uncertain when they would go back to school life.
Though affected the most by the deadly virus, Europe has made a difference in terms of reopening the schools in the new normal.
As of now, the European governments are determined to keep the schools open even during the ongoing second wave of the pandemic.
Take the cases of Germany and France.
Both the countries on Thursday announced an emergency month-long lockdown from November. Restaurants, gyms, cinemas, concerts and theatres will remain closed to reverse a spike in coronavirus cases that threaten to overwhelm the hospitals.
"We need to take action now," Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding the situation was "very serious".
French President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address also made the same call. "The virus is circulating at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated."
Interestingly, neither country announced school closures during the fresh lockdown.
Rather all the lockdown measures are aimed at what Merkel said limiting the economic impact of the measures to a bare minimum and to keep schools and daycare centers open.
Why have they desperately reopened the schools?
The answer lies in the study released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month.
The study says the world will see a 1.5% drop in economic output for the rest of this century for skill loss due to pandemic-induced disruption in schooling.
Bangladesh will not be spared from the colossal damage to future skills inflicted by the prolonged closure of educational institutions.
Although no study has so far been carried out to assess the loss in monetary value, educationists and economists believe the damage would be huge, to be carried forward from generation to generation, as most of the students are actually away from books.
Recorded classes through television and radio have failed to reach most students.
"The present generation will be affected immediately, and even their children will also be victims of the pandemic. As a result, the rest of the years of this century will have to bear the cost of unskilled generation," Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told this newspaper last month when his attention was drawn to the OECD study.
Executive Director of South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem) Dr Selim Raihan told TBS, "We see clear economic losses due to disruption in schooling, which will lead to unskilled human resources among the young generation. It is just potential losses."
Many students along with their families moved back to their country homes from the urban areas. A few of them will return to schools. A good number of them will drop out, he said.
"We will have to belong to the unskilled manpower who actually will be a burden for the economy," he added.
The UN and World Bank has strongly argued for reopening of schools.
"We don't need to look far to see the devastation the pandemic has caused to children's learning across the world," said Robert Jenkins, education chief at the UN children's agency Unicef, in a statement.
The devastation has been magnified in low- and middle-income nations, where there has been a lack of access to distance learning, higher chances of delays for school reopening and fewer resources to mitigate health risks, reads the statement.
It is essential for countries to invest immediately in school systems to reduce the widening gap between the education provided in poor and rich countries because of the pandemic, the global bodies stated.
How EU countries reopened schools
The UK was among the first countries in Europe to reopen schools in June, followed by France, Germany and others. Those countries are making rules about masks, building new classrooms and adding teachers amid the parents' fears whether such measures would be enough to safeguard the children from a second Covid-19 wave.
"Most governments, however, have concluded that the greater risk is that a generation of children will lose out on crucial face-to-face teaching, and that online lessons delivered to pupils staying at home are not sustainable for most working parents," reads a Guardian report last month.
European leaders from the political left, right and center have sent a similar message to students and their parents: Even in a pandemic, children are better off in classrooms.
France's prime minister promised in the last week of August to "do everything" to get people back to school and work.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called reopening schools a "moral duty." His government even promised to fine parents who keep their children at home.
And Italy's health minister in August forced discos to close this month with one goal in mind: "to reopen schools in September in complete safety."
Where we stand now
The situation in Bangladesh is opposite to those of the European countries, particularly Germany and France.
All educational institutions of the country have remained closed since mid-March.
Nothing is certain when the closure will be over.
All public examinations such as primary education certificate, junior school certificate and Higher Secondary school certificate and annual class examinations have been cancelled.
Students have been given auto promotion in an unprecedented manner.
Uncertainty is looming large on the fate of the next Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam scheduled for February 1.
The rich-poor gap in educational opportunities, as identified in the OECD report, is even wider in Bangladesh. Online classes, initiated by many institutions, could not connect the majority of the pupils due to lack of access to costly devices, poor network coverage and high cost of Internet bandwidth.
All businesses are open since June and stimulus packages have been offered for a faster economic recovery.
But no significant initiative has been taken to recover the damage in the education sector.
The worrisome thing is that even if the education ministry takes some measures like building new classrooms, recruitment of new teachers and enforcement of health guidelines to open the school now, it may be difficult to convince parents to send the children in during the pandemic. It is because of little or no trust in the administration's efficiency.