Primary level students decrease by 1.45 million

Education is one of the sectors in the country that has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. This has become evident two years since the outbreak of corona. Latest statistics of the government reveal that within the span of one year during the prevalence of coronavirus, over 1.4 million (14 lakh) students decreased at the primary level. And over 800,000 students decreased at the pre-primary level. Yet every year there is a trend for students to increase. The number of schools at the primary level around the country had decreased too. This decrease in schools is basically in the non-government sector.

These figures appeared in the 2021 Annual Primary School Census (APSC) carried out by the Directorate of Primary Education.

According to officials of the primary education directorate, alongside the decrease in the total number of students in one year, the difference with the dropout rate has somewhat decreased. That means, the rate of children who are enrolled in Class 1 and complete studies up till Class 5, has increased.

There had been an apprehension that students would drop out in huge numbers due to the coronavirus situation. However, the census shows that the dropout rate that decreased in one go by 3 per cent. The present dropout rate is 14.15 per cent. In 2020 this was 17.20 per cent.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, an official of the primary school directorate said that dropout rate is calculated by seeing whether a student who is enrolled in Class 1, completes studies up till Class 5 or not.

Due to the corona outbreak, over the past two years the primary education completion exam and the annual exam were not held. After assessment on the basis of assignments, all the students were promoted to the next class. As a result, the dropout rate fell. At the same, as the schools had remained closed for two years at a stretch, many children, particularly of the pre-primary level, did not even get enrolled in school. This may have resulted in the fall in the total number of students.

Bangladesh formally has a one-year pre-primary education for children over five years old. After one year in pre-primary, a child is enrolled in Class 1 at the age of six.

According to 2021 records of Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), the number of students at the secondary level in 2021 had dropped by 62,104 compared to the preceding year. There are presently 20,294 secondary schools in the country.

According to the primary education directorate, in 2019 there were over 20.1 million (2 crore 1 lakh) students at the primary level. In 2018 this had been 20,916,000 (2 crore 9 lakh 16 thousand).

Primary education during corona

Due to the corona outbreak, the government closed down all educational institutions on 17 March 2020. After 18 months, the educational institutions were finally opened in September last year. But with a fresh surge in corona cases, the government announced the closure of all educational institutions again, up until 21 February.

While secondary, higher secondary and higher educational institutions opened up on 22 February, primary educational institutions opened on 2 March. Pre-primary level children began coming to class even later, on 15 March, that too for only two days a week. From 12 May pre-primary children began attended classes every day. However, this extended closure has seriously harmed children's studies.

According to the annual primary school census, the number of government and non-government educational institutions (including kindergartens) decreased by 14,111 in one year. In 2021 the number of schools stood at 118,891. In the previous year this had been 133,002. Basically the number of non-government primary schools including kindergartens has decreased.

Having no exams could be a reason why the dropout rate has decreased. But due to systemic reasons, the huge decrease in the number of students has not been included in the dropout rate
Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus of BRAC University

The census reveals that in 2021 there were 20,090,057 (2 crore 90 thousand 57) students from pre-primary up till Class 5 all over the country. In the previous year this had been 21,551,691 (2 crore 15 lakh 51 thousand 691). The decrease in students has been more at the pre-primary level.

For a few years, the number of girl students had been higher than boys at the primary level. However, the census indicates that now this rate has fallen to an extent and the number of girl students is around equal to that of boys. This time there were 50.46 per cent girl students and 49.54 per cent boys. But even in 2020 the rate of girl students was 51 per cent and boy students 49 per cent.

When asked about the state of primary education as revealed in the census, professor emeritus of BRAC University Manzoor Ahmed told Prothom Alo, having no exams could be a reason why the dropout rate has decreased. But due to systemic reasons, the huge decrease in the number of students has not been included in the dropout rate.

This educationist feels that when the 2022 records come in, a higher decrease in students at the primary level may be seen. His advice is to firstly draw up a plan to bring back the students who remain out of school. Secondly, proper planning must be adopted and implemented to meet the deficit in studies of the children who have been promoted two classes up without proper studies for two years.

* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir