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Our students, from kindergarten to Masters, all are being seriously affected due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The university students, however, could study by themselves online or offline amid the shutdown due to the spread of the virus. But around 20 million students of primary and high school levels are the worst victims. They might get just four months of the current session. In normal times, they would get around one and a half months leave for summer and Ramadan vacation. But they would know what they have to do during the holidays. But this year, they did not get the chance.

Media reports say the government is thinking of reopening the educational institutions after the Eid. The reports also said, the authorities have been pondering over two options to make up the loss due to the virus outbreak: one is, to end the session in December, as usual, by curtailing the syllabus, and the second option is, to extend the session up to February 2021 to complete the current syllabus.

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It seems the authorities will take preparation to hold exams once the schools are opened. In normal times, the schools take second terminal exams in June. But this year, they might try to take the exams even in August unless they are not stopped. Because, taking exams is a norm in Bangladesh's education system. There is more fuss over what the questions will be instead of what to study.

There won’t be a huge loss if the PEC exam is not taken. No high school admits students on the basis of their PEC results. The main objective of the PEC exams is to get a picture of primary education in the country

Let’s think of primary education. Almost all the schools take special care of their fifth graders in July-August every year so that they could get good results in the PEC exams. I have seen many schools complete the syllabus of their fifth graders by June-July and take preparations for the PEC exams. Students of other classes sometimes get overlooked at this time. Since, four months of the current have already gone by, the schools will jump into taking preparations for the PEC exams once those are opened. The only way to avoid this is to cancel both the second terminal and PEC exams. As a result, the children will not be put under undue pressure. Besides, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board also could curtail the syllabus for this year. If there is no second terminal and PEC exams, the schools will get some extra time and could reschedule their final exams for fifth and other grades in December instead of November. Since, both teachers and students would be free from pressure, the students would make up their studies comfortably in the remaining time of the session. The same is applicable for the Ibtedayee Madrasa as well.

At the same time, a huge amount of money, time and energy required to organise PEC and Ibtedayee exams will be saved. We need to keep in mind that organising an exam for 3 million students is a huge task. There won’t be a huge loss if the PEC exam is not taken. No high school admits students on the basis of their PEC results. The main objective of the PEC exams is to get a picture of primary education in the country. Since, there is supposed to be a National Student Assessment in 2021, that also should not face any problem for this.

Even though we talk of online, homes cannot be the alternative of an educational institution. Students do not only study at schools. They learn how to make friends and mix with them, they learn about collective behaviour, respect the senior and care for the juniors

The same would happen with the JSC exams, which is organised in November, generally. As a result, the session for eighth graders is of 10 months. It would be a tortuous for them if the JSC is taken this year. Instead of the JSC, schools can take final exams this year and can separate the groups of ninth grade students based on that results. This is how, the education process can be taken ahead just omitting the second term, PEC and JSC exams.

I think, the current session can be completed by December this year. Just the syllabus has to be made smaller. The students will not suffer much for this because of the spiral character of educational system. A subject matter is developed as students reach the upper classes. For example, teaching decimal notations ends in the fourth grade but the teaching of four general rules is run in the fifth grade. Almost all subject matter grows in this spiral manner. You just have to remember this.

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We need to remember coronavirus pandemic is not solely our problem. Schools of all the countries have been facing this problem. We could enquire what the countries are doing whose session ends in June-July. Most of the countries have not put undue pressure on their minor students. The countries have promoted their students if their session has been completed. They said they would provide a report of advancement for the guardians based on the performance of the time the students studied. The schools of those countries are putting more emphasis on teaching ways of facing disaster, including social distancing, than on studying traditional curricula; taking special care of the mental development of the students as many of them have lost their dear ones in the pandemic.

Even though we talk of online, homes cannot be the alternative of an educational institution. Students do not only study at schools. They learn how to make friends and mix with them, they learn about collective behaviour, respect the senior and care for the juniors. On the way to and at schools, they learn the rules that need to be followed as a member of the society. These are not less important for proper growth of a child. We should remember all this while taking decisions on what is to be done after opening the schools.

* Munir Hasan is the general secretary of Bangladesh Math Olympiad. The piece, published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza