Clockwise: Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Rashed K Choudhury, Mominur Rashid Amin and  Syed Golam Faruk
Clockwise: Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Rashed K Choudhury, Mominur Rashid Amin and Syed Golam Faruk

Adequate measures must be taken against the transmission of coronavirus before reopening schools, speakers said at a virtual dialogue organised by UNICEF.

Educational institutions have been closed for over seven months now since the outbreak of coronavirus. The students are losing out on their studies. The achievements which had been made in preventing child marriage, decreasing dropouts and increasing enrollment, are all at risk now due to this extended closure. The impact will be long-lasting in various sectors. It is essential to reopen educational institutions. However, this requires adequate preparation to ensure a safe environment before reopening.

These observations were made by speakers at a virtual dialogue on 'Reopening schools safely: Reality and the way forward.' The dialogue was organised by UNICEF, with Prothom Alo as media partner.

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Speaking as chief guest at the dialogue, deputy minister for education, Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, said that the outbreak of coronavirus has posed as a threat to many achievements that have been made in the country.

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Many achievements of the past 11 years are now in the face of challenge. The spread of education had brought about women's development and reduced the number of child marriages. Plans must be taken up immediately to ensure that these achievements are not wasted.

The deputy minister said that the government was following the recommendations of the national technical experts committee to keep schools closed to tackle the challenge of coronavirus. He said, taking reality into consideration, as well the views of all concerned, we will have to move towards reopening schools. However, the students, for whom we are taking all risks into consideration, are the most important asset of the country. Preparations for reopening schools must be taken from now and this has already begun. But there is no alternative to following the rules of hygiene.

Appreciating UNICEF's initiative, the deputy minister for education said that the government will give due consideration to the recommendations put forward by UNICEF.

Former caretaker government advisor Rasheda K Choudhury said, proper consideration and preparations must be taken before reopening schools. The teachers, students, guardian and all concerned must be taken into consideration when dealing with the risks. Hygiene rules must be ensured. Necessary investment must be made for the schools to be prepared accordingly. Accurate data and information needs to be collected. The number of students who are out of touch with studies, or who have fallen behind, must be ascertained.

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Rasheda K Choudhury appealed to the government to celebrate the reopening of schools. This would deliver a message to the people that the schools are ready. People should be imbibed with a sense of confidence.

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Additional secretary of the education ministry's secondary and higher education directorate, Mominur Rashid Amin, said the home cannot be an alternative to school. Even online cannot be an alternative to educational institutions. Educational institutions do not provide studies alone. It is about sharing and caring and so much more that the students learn. The pandemic has obstructed this and the educational institutions had to remain closed.

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Emphasising on the need for proper preparation to reopen schools, Mominur Rashid Chowdhury said, the teachers, students, managing committee, guardians and all concerned must be taken into consideration.

Director general of the secondary and higher education directorate, Syed Golam Faruk, said that now only the teachers who are required are going to school. They are checking if the labs are all right, superivising the cleaning of the schools and so on. He said that they were in the final stages of planning what is to be done when the schools are reopened and how the rules are to be followed.

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The dialogue began with the screening of a video made by UNICEF on students in various parts of Bangladesh. Many of the students there expressed their eagerness to return to school.

UNICEF's education expert Kenneth A Russell, speaking at the virtual dialogue, pointed to the impact of coronavirus of education and on students. He said that the extended closure due to coronavirus may lead to an increase in child marriage, child labour and drop-outs. There will also be an impact on learning.

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He said this was a global problem, adding that 51 per cent of the students around the world were away for studies at present. And 41 per cent were connected to studies.

Director of the National Primary Education Academy, Yusuf Ali, said many people have left the cities to go to the villages because of COVID-19. Again, when schools reopen, many will return. That may lead to an increase in transmission of coronavirus. That is why competence and proper management must be given due consideration in reopening the schools.

Samia Ahmed, senior manager, Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children, placed importance on preventing child marriage.

UNICEF's WASH project specialist, Mahjabeen Ahmed, said schools must have separate toilets for boys and girls, hand washing and drinking water facilities. Remote areas must be given due consideration about these matters.

UNICEF's education manager Mohammad Mohsin said that coronavirus had an impact on children, adding that if the early learning capacity was not properly developed, this would have an effect on the rest of their lives. Investment must be stepped up on reopening schools with adequate preparation. He said even if schools reopened, arrangements for online classes must also be kept intact. The students could to attend classes three days in person and three days online.

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