Some 3.42 million are primary school students and 2.50 million secondary school students are now at risk of learning loss.

Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC) and Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) jointly conducted the rapid telephonic survey between April 2020 and March 2021 to assess the impact of Covid-19 on poverty. It used samples from 6,099 households with around 4,940 consisting of school-going-age children.

Between June 2020 and March 2021, the out-of-pocket expenditure for education increased 11 times. The crisis has increased the opportunity cost of investing in education. Some eight per cent of school-going boys and three per cent of school-going girls are in some form of income-earning activity.

Without targeted remedial measures, the situation will lead to reduced learning capacity or risk of dropouts in future, says the study.

The survey also revealed that only around 10 per cent of students had access to or used distance learning opportunities to compensate for school closure; public TV classes were viewed by only around 2 per cent.

Some 51 per cent in primary and 61 per cent secondary students went to coaching or private tuition. However, it was lower in urban compared to rural primarily due to higher costs.

Even in pre-pandemic times, a greater proportion of secondary school-going-age children were out of school (21 per cent) than primary (14 per cent). More children were out of school in urban slums than rural areas at both primary and secondary levels.

"A significant portion of school-going children are at risk of learning loss. So, school reopening must be coupled with a set of remedial measures to cover the learning loss and help children to cope up," said BIGD executive director Imran Matin.

PPRC chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman focused on three main consequences of school closures – learning loss, education cost burdens, and multidimensional social alienation.

He said outside class hours, additional programmes are required as a learning loss recovery strategy to mitigate the loss as part of a post-Covid human capital agenda. "Otherwise, a large part of our population will not only be far removed from education but also become deskilled," he added.

Zillur recommended that existing primary and secondary stipend programmes be used to redress the out-of-pocket education cost burdens.

"Using the established database, the government can quickly provide a cash boost by allocating Tk 29.60 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal budget," he said.

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