Many students in rural areas are missing out on digital classes during the shutdown and are at an increased risk of early marriage or dropping out
In the life of Samia Sultana, a secondary school student from Faridpur, much of 2020 will go down as lost time.
Her school in Dayarampur, an outlying area of the district, remains closed due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
Samia is missing out on the benefits of digital classes – online or televised – as her father Shahidul Islam is a farmer who cannot afford a smartphone, an internet connection or a television set.
For an impoverished family like Samia's, these devices are luxuries they cannot shell out money for. The little they save in their lives is spent on food.
Samia is just one of the numerous students who lack access to online or televised classes in a country where the digital divide is wide – especially in remote rural backwaters.
More than 3.5 crore children are studying in primary to higher-secondary levels.
About 20 percent of them will not see the televised lessons being broadcast on the state-run Sangsad Television, according to Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, an educator and former Dhaka University teacher.
"The government should install televisions at schools in remote areas, where many students are from poor backgrounds, so that they can attend televised classes while abiding by social distancing measures," he added.
One of the institutions falling into this definition is Baladiar Primary School in Charghat upazila of Rajshahi. It has 239 students and the parents of nearly 80 percent of them live off daily wages, said Chandra Rani Mitra, headmistress of the school.
Staying at home, many students have no scope of learning and the mandatory provision of social distancing is barring them from going to their neighbours' houses to watch TV.
At the request of the upazila administration, Chandra gave the administration a list of 181 students who might need financial aid to continue their studies.
Amid the lack of access to the digital world, there is a bigger threat looming: a sudden spike in the dropout rate.
Educator Rasheda K Choudhury fears the possibility of children being pushed into child labour and early marriages.
The number of out-of-school children came down from 23 percent in 1998 to 13.6 percent in 2008, according to the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE).
"Our achievement of high enrollment in primary schools may reverse with the economic crisis deepening," said Rasheda, executive director of the CAMPE. She continued, "the government has to put in place a support system so that parents do not pull their children out of school."
Some children also complain about the quality of the televised classes.
Eighth grade student Azwad Yusha, in a post on a social media platform, said the class for learning English turned into a boring vocabulary lesson. "I would have been somewhat satisfied had she taught us the correct meaning of words," he said.
A Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinee from Dhaka's City College, Faysal Abdullah Fahim is also critical of the lessons being broadcast on the television. "They are not effective," he said.
Referring to the government efforts over more than the last decade to set up computer labs and multimedia labs, Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at Colombo-based ICT think-tank LIRNEasia, said, "We always very wrongly focus on technology."
"However, we rule out the value of human capital and have neglected the importance of strengthening our teaching force," he added.
Whatever might be missing in the education system, Samia of Faridpur needs to prepare well for her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams, just a year away. She has been far-removed from classes since March 17.
As private tutors – whom she used to seek help from to understand some subjects – are staying home, she is now fending for herself.
Access to Information in Bangladesh of the government's ICT division is working on a project to create digital content that students will be able to download on mobile phones, educator Rasheda K Choudhury said.
"However, such learning material comes at the cost of an internet connection. Mobile phone companies can come forward to make them free of charge," she added.
Meanwhile, every evening, after iftar, Samia flips through the pages of her books on business studies, but closes them soon after stumbling upon text she is unable to decipher.
With the shutdown likely to be extended up to September – if the curve of virus transmission is not flattened – she does not know when her tribulations will end.