As the government closed schools, many parents simultaneously suspended private tutors’ services because no classes meant no homework, projects, and exams. So why would one need a tutor?
Rimi (alias) could not buy a new Eid outfit for her younger brother. The two siblings and their mother live in a rented tin-shed house in Tongi – an area on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Twentyone-year-old Rimi is a student of National University. Since her father's demise three years ago, the family has been dependant on Rimi's earnings from a job at a local school and some private tuitions.
Four days a week, she teaches three children at her home and two others at their respective homes for three days a week.
She makes a total of Tk20,000 a month, which she spends on house rent, food, medicine, her brother's fees, and other essentials.
However, her income stopped since the shutdown was imposed. The school did not pay her salaries for April and May. Moreover, her students' parents suspended her services.
"We have no money left. I had very little savings from my income, and we have been surviving on it for the last two months, but now we are almost penniless," she told this correspondent.
"I have not paid the house rent for two months and we have no food left. The landlord has been asking for rent for the last few days and threatened to throw us out if we do not pay immediately," she said.
Rimi sought help from her students' parents, but nobody except one came forward to stand by her in this crisis.
Many other tutors like Rimi are also struggling to make ends meet after the government ordered all educational institutions to shut down due to the pandemic.
As of May 31, Bangladesh has reported 44,608 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 610 deaths.
On April 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that schools may remain closed till September if the coronavirus situation in the country did not improve.
As the government closed schools, many parents simultaneously suspended private tutors' services because no classes meant no homework, projects, and exams. So why would one need a tutor?
In addition, the guidelines provided by World Health Organisation strictly spoke of social distancing and many parents opined that letting in tutors would increase the risk of bringing home the lethal virus.
Forty-year-old Jahanara (alias) has two teenagers aged 15 and 13. She has suspended their tutors as their school is closed. "I have cut some extra costs," she said when asked about it.
The private tutor sector is an age-old concept and a significant sector in Bangladesh. In the old days, people used to hire lodging masters for their children. Usually young students, they used to stay with the family and teach the children in exchange for food, accommodation and a little stipend.
The concept has changed over the years, but families are still dependant on private tutors because many parents do not have the patience or time to teach their children.
Private tuition has never been immune from criticism and has been termed as "shadow education" by those who oppose the idea. However, on the brighter side, livelihoods of thousands depend on it.
For example, bdtutors.com, the first online database for students who need tutors, has over 20,000 registered tutors. These people are located all over the country, have varied fee structures, and teach different subjects. Some of them specialise in one subject, while others provide help in multiple subjects.
But there are thousands of unregistered teachers, ranging from senior school students to those for whom private tuition is their bread and butter.
There are many Facebook groups where people looking for tutors can put up an announcement and connect with a potential tuition-provider.
These groups have thousands of members. Hence, it is difficult to say how big the sector is. It is also not easy to understand how many people are dependent on this informal sector for their livelihood.
While some students take up private tuitions for earning pocket money, for people like Rimi, they need them to run their households.
A huge number of people, who came to Dhaka looking for work or are preparing for government jobs, also depend on tutoring to support themselves in the city.
One of them is Jamil (alias). He moved to the capital last year to look for work and prepare for BCS. He has been tutoring SSC, HSC, and university-admission seekers at a coaching centre to support himself.
Jamil lives in a shared apartment with five other bachelors and he has been unemployed since schools and coaching centres were closed.
Initially, he thought the shutdown would not last for long and he had been living on his savings. Now, there is not much left of the little money he had.
After some time, parents started calling him up, requesting to resume lessons.
"When schools declared online classes, parents began to call me to resume tuitions," he said. But, many are yet to clear his March salary.
"Many families did not clear my salary for March. They refused to pay for April and May as well. Did I cause the shutdown or the coronavirus? How will I survive if they suspend my services and my pay?" a frustrated Jamil asked.
However, many people have paid tutors half of their salaries and some decided to continue the tutors' services even during the shutdown.
Although few in number, some families have asked tutors to teach online and also paid them full salaries.