Our educational institutions remained closed for 18 months during the prevalence of coronavirus. Then schools reopened on 12 September 2021, with concise classes restricted to one or two days a week. Then for some mysterious reason, exams on a few subjects were held at the secondary schools, after which classes were shut down again. So secondary schools were closed all throughout December. The primary school students were more fortunate because their schools remained open till the end of the year and no exams were imposed on them.
Then because of the omicron outbreak in January-February this year, schools were shut down again for about a month. I do not know if schools anywhere else in the world had closed down at this time. Perhaps they had. Anyhow, now our schools are running in full swing. Positively, schools were kept open even during Ramadan.
From our school curriculum it would seem that over the past two years our students didn't really face any losses in their studies. The educational institutions are going ahead with their curricula in the new classes. They imagine that the students managed to keep up with their studies over these two years by means of television, assignments and online. But the students of Class 5 hardly had any scope for interaction in Class 3 and Class 4. Their plight has been well described in a social media post of a primary school teacher, "We are totally crestfallen at the primary level and have no idea what to do, how to proceed. In the villages particularly, children of Class 5 are not even able to read Bangla."
Nobel laureate in economics, Professor Abhijit Banerjee, echoed this teacher's sentiments. In an interview published in Prothom Alo (7 April in English and 10 April in Bangla), he said, "The school system does not seem to notice that this has happened. It acts as if you are in Class 3 and have not been in school for 18 months. You should be in Class 4 now and so they treat you as if you are in the end of Class 4 rather than somebody who has basically not had any education in that time. That means you don’t adjust the pedagogy to where the child is." Professor Abhijit Banerjee and his associates have drawn up a report in this regard, published by the World Bank and UNICEF.
Students in the cities and from well-off families have an edge over the others because of private tuitions, coaching and online classes. But if the overall education standard of the children all around the country is to be improved, this requires serious thought and this must be taken into consideration immediately
We could have paid attention to this issue at the beginning of the year. The current academic year could have started with a two-month crash course on the curriculum of the past two years. In any curriculum, the outcome of studies is like a spiral and so the primary and secondary students could have caught up on the lessons lost over the past two years. There are many subjects in the curriculum of the current class that continue serially in the next classes. In such instances, when starting the new chapters in the classroom, the previous lessons should be first caught up on.
For instance, fractions are an important part of math. At the primary level the children get the concept of fractions in addition-subtraction-multiplication-division, ending in Class 4 and 5. So the child, who was in Class 4 in 2020, is now in Class 6. In Class 6 they will not be taught fractions anew and so they will have to go ahead without being equipped with this essential mathematical skill and will invariably trip up along the way. Similarly, a child who was in Class 6 in 2020 will now be thrust into solving algebraic problems with no basic lessons in algebra. How will the child cope with this?
Students in the cities and from well-off families have an edge over the others because of private tuitions, coaching and online classes. But if the overall education standard of the children all around the country is to be improved, this requires serious thought and this must be taken into consideration immediately.
Professor Abhijit Banerjee sees the solution to this problem in teaching based on what level the children are at. He said, "The key is to focus on where the kids are and be realistic about it. Start by testing them, make sure you know where they are and start the pedagogy with the assumption that they are not where they are assumed to be. This is especially so with the disadvantaged children. The ones with educated parents, and who have access to classes online, maybe they are still okay, but not for the children from the less privileged background. Some were already in Class 1 or 2 level, maybe Class 3. Now they have fallen behind if anything. But we are pretending they are a year and a half older. They are one and a half years older, but they did not get much of an education in this period. So that means you really need to figure out, is the child in Class 1 level, 2 level, 3 level or 4 level and start teaching they are based on that. That is not a radical idea but an idea that requires systemic participation."
The problem is, there is hardly the scope in our country to teach at different levels within the same class. So it is necessary to fix the curriculum a bit lower than the average standard. Also, the weaker students need to be identified and, if necessary, given extra lessons after school hours to help them catch up.
The corona pandemic was no common occurrence. And that is why the suffering of the students has occurred only this once in a hundred years. So, all sorts of realistic measures need to be adopted to heal the wounds created by this. It must be kept in mind, simply closing one's eyes won't make the catastrophe disappear
Then again, given the long absence from the classroom, many children have lost interest in going to school and so there is the difficult task of winning back their attention. Lessons must be made fun. Children should learn through fun and games in the classroom. This is the area where emphasis must be given.
The corona pandemic was no common occurrence. And that is why the suffering of the students has occurred only this once in a hundred years. So, all sorts of realistic measures need to be adopted to heal the wounds created by this. It must be kept in mind, simply closing one's eyes won't make the catastrophe disappear.
* Munir Hasan is General Secretary, Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee