UNICEF has recommended that the government prioritize a nationwide catch-up program to recover the learning loss caused by 18 months of school closures amid the Covid pandemic.
“If we don’t do this, I fear more children will drop out as they struggle with their education,” said George Laryea-Adjei, Unicef’s regional director for South Asia, based in Nepal.
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When children drop out of school, they are at greater risk of being engaged in child labor and trapped in low-paying and dangerous jobs, he said in a recent interview with The Daily Star.
“There will be economic growth, but intergenerational cycles cannot be broken… It has social implications and that really worries me.”
In late April, Laryea-Adjei visited Unicef programs implemented with government and NGOs in Dhaka, Khulna, Cox’s Bazar and Noakhali.
Amid the pandemic, schools remained closed for a year and a half, one of the longest in the world, affecting children’s education and mental health. There were more dropouts and child marriages, and those who did not dropout faced immense learning losses.
Students have moved up the grade without attending classrooms, he said. “So you’re going to struggle. Those who have had access to extra help may catch up, but others will continue to face challenges.”
“We also need to find alternative learning to attract children who have dropped out so that they are encouraged to return to school,” Laryea-Adjei said.
Asked how learning loss could be addressed, he said expanding accelerated learning programs was one way. The program can be condensed in a way that allows children to have intensive learning and the necessary support.
“But it needs to be a nationwide effort, reaching every school. Bangladesh has a population of over 170 million and more than a third of them are children. UNICEF is working with education authorities to plan and work on corrective action. We have to hurry – it’s essential.”
The Unicef official also pointed out that parents are demanding corrective action from schools, instead of just accepting that the promoted student is fine.
Even before the pandemic, about 4.3 million school-aged children were out of school and authorities needed to provide them with additional programs, he said, adding that there were a need for part-time schooling for those who will not be able to return to school and vocational training for older children.
For education, the allocation is currently around 2% of GDP. “Bangladesh has already committed to meeting the global SDG benchmarks and the Education 2030 Framework for Action calls for allocating at least four to six percent of GDP to education.
“Bangladesh has done really remarkably well. But when you reach that level of development, if you don’t invest more in human capital, you lose the opportunity to accelerate and move to even higher levels. “
Regarding the quality of education, he said there was a need to improve facilities, teaching methods and teacher training. Global standards had changed and so improvements were needed in all areas.
“We need to invest more in teaching, make teaching more efficient, more enjoyable. Technology really helps and facilitates learning. We need to invest in teacher support and supervision.”
Bangladesh has the fastest growing economy in South Asia and will very soon become a developing country.
Asked how the country could meet the challenge of depleting foreign funds with its graduation from LDCs, he said, “Foreign funding is already down. For us, we need to step up our fundraising to support our cause… Graduation doesn’t mean problems just disappeared overnight.”
Even if the economy grows, it does not benefit all groups. That doesn’t mean the need for hospitals and routine vaccinations is going away, he added.