Without access to proper education, children become more vulnerable and unprotected. As the pandemic brings strains on every aspect of life, out-of-school children are more likely to get exposed to high mental stress, and a pause on their education can negatively impact their lives. Thus, the continuation of proper education is mandatory, especially during this ongoing pandemic.
According to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), it has become vital for everyone to support the teachers, institutions, or other educators in providing adequate learning to our children, especially during a crisis. Looking back at a crisis-ridden year, one particular issue among others caught my eye. While the nation was facing an unprecedented peril, the backbone of our nation, the education system was seemingly falling apart.
Numerous parents across the nation formed independent forums and went to the courts and the Directorate General of Higher and Secondary Education (DGHSE) to enforce their demand of waiving 50% tuition fees. Some parents have even stopped paying the tuition altogether but still expected the schools to provide education to their children. Ironically, the core protest came from a small group of parents whose wards study in English medium schools.
Interestingly, these very schools made the first efforts of continuing education online during ongoing pandemic. Their teachers continued to work to provide education so that our children can be prepared for the new era. I personally feel that this step has somewhat fast-forwarded the learning process for our ultimate Digital Bangladesh goal.
It cannot be denied that English-medium schools created the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students to receive international recognition along with the prospect of studying abroad and represent Bangladesh on a global scale. These schools have always given priority to the students and kept on changing their curriculums to keep pace with the evolving world. Even now, the schools and the teachers are developing numerous activities to help the students cope with the pandemic and prepare them for the new world.
We must not forget that schools also need sufficient funds to operate seamlessly, and for that, schools solely depend on tuition fees. If the parents deny paying their due fees, it would be tough for the schools to function. This would disrupt the payment of the teachers and staff members who have family members depending on them along with numerous substantial operational costs and expenses which includes but is not limited to taxes, rents, utility fees, loans, and others.
Tuition fees are the only source of finance for the schools, and just because a pandemic is going on does not mean that all these costs have disappeared. High investment is required to operate a school, however, with a shallow margin space. I believe that if it were such a profitable business sector, then numerous other entities would have joined the bandwagon.
To protect our children from getting infected with the virus, most schools have been operating classes online. Hence, to conduct studies online, the schools need to maintain standard Information and Technology (IT) infrastructure and provide state-of-art training to the teachers. Where most schools have been operating it through Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams, others have been developing their own software to conduct online classes. All of these extra costs are being added to the school’s existing expenses.
Considering all these factors, if the parents decide to show total disregard for the school authorities’ causes, a collapse in the infrastructure of English-medium schools would be inevitable.
It has become critical for the nation’s government to step in and support the English-medium schools in helping them operate smoothly during a pandemic.
School closure will lead to a severe effect not only on the economy but also on our children’s lives. Let us see the domino effect of the parents’ unrealistic demand – schools shut down, thousands of students’ education comes to a pause, and teachers and staff members lose their jobs, which increases the unemployment rate in the economy. The domino effect might look insignificant to some. Still, the reality is it will shake the economy to the core. It will be nearly impossible for any nation in the world to recover quickly from such a disastrous event, especially during a crisis.
Moreover, a pause in education will severely affect students, especially seniors, who are at a critical stage of their lives. We know numerous parents are struggling with their finances, but it does not give us the right to make demands from the schools and put the next generation’s future at risk. In fact, with increasing non-payment of fees, most private English-medium schools this author reached out to have already reached a critical state of collapse. One Dhanmondi-based school Principal was in utter tears at the school’s financial distress, mentioning how more than 50% of parents have stopped paying fees, forcing the school to a state of imminent closure. The same sentiment is visible across other private English-medium schools in Dhaka and Chittagong that the author reached out to.
Hence, it has become critical for the nation’s government to step in and support the English-medium schools in tackling these issues and helping them operate smoothly during a pandemic. It takes several years of investment for a nation to build robust educational infrastructure – thus, we cannot let drastic decisions to break it down. The government needs to step in to prevent a national disaster – mass school closure.
Aumio Srizan Samya is assistant professor at the Department of Women & Gender Studies, Dhaka University