Dropout in secondary level on the rise amid Covid-19

Students cross a narrow bamboo bridge as water submerges the school grounds at Talabah Model High School, Kaliakair, Gazipur. on 12 September 2021.
Sazid Hossain

With as many as 14 students getting married last year, the number of students dropped to 684 in 2021 from 745 in 2020 at Shari Ghat High School in Jaintiapur upazila of Sylhet, the school authorities reported to the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE).

Like the Shari Ghat High School, according to the government’s primary data, secondary schools across the country saw a rise in dropouts in a gap of just a year during the coronavirus pandemic with 62,104 fewer students being enrolled in 2021 than that of the previous year.

Yet, 200 more secondary schools opened during this period. However, colleges, madrasahs, vocational institutes and universities witnessed a rise in the number of students. Currently, there are 20,294 secondary schools running across Bangladesh.

Shari Ghat High School headmaster told Prothom Alo he took up various initiatives to stop child marriage but several students were married off amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Added to that, several students joined work as income of their guardians dropped. Such were the factors contributing to dropout, he added.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) collected data on educational institutions across the country every year. Report preparation is underway after collecting data from educational institutions online in 2021.

The number of total students, according to the primary data of BANBEIS, dropped to 10,190,022 in 2021 from over 10,252,000 in 2020. Currently, there are over 20,451,000 students at post-primary levels, starting from class 6 to tertiary and professional education and the figure was over 19,466,000 in 2020. That means the number of students fell at secondary level saw, other post-primary level education witnessed a rise.

An official at BANBEIS, on condition of anonymity, said they have initially learned many secondary students are joining work, especially, many of them are taking jobs in the apparel industry and this may contribute to dropout. However, dropout did not occur as much as feared.

On the other hand, HSC and equivalent examinations did not take place in 2020 because of coronavirus pandemic and last year SSC and HSC examinations were held on three subjects based on their groups with almost all students clearing the tests, resulting in increase in the numbers of students in colleges and universities.

Besides, students of secondary level were promoted to upper class without taking part in annual examinations in 2020 and no primary education completion (OEC) and Junior School Certificate (JSC) examinations were held in the last two years. As a result, there was no factor for dropout in relation to passing or failing. Reasons like child labour and child marriage may contribute to dropout, according to this official.

People concerned have long been saying child marriage, dropout and child labour may affect education due to coronavirus crisis. Dropout was 34.49 per cent at secondary level in 2020 and the BANBEIS is yet to find out the percentage of dropout for 2021.

Professor emeritus of BRAC University Manzoor Ahmed told Prothom Alo the BANBEIS’s initial data is stating a rise in dropout at secondary level and that can happen but reliability of data must be ensured. Besides, passing of all or majority of the students at examinations may be a reason for rise in students at upper classes. Because when a student is promoted to another class, he/she wants to complete studies despite hardship. However, more analysis is necessary on these issues, he added.