Dhaka, Bangladesh – For the primary time in 18 months, Adnan Hasan finds himself carrying his faculty uniform – a crisp white shirt and blue pants – and standing in a queue.
The fifth-grader, carrying a masks, waited earlier than the arched gate of capital Dhaka’s Udayan School on Sunday, as a whole bunch of 1000’s of youngsters in Bangladesh returned to their school rooms after 543 days – one of many world’s longest coronavirus shutdowns.
As kids waited to enter Udayan School, two employees stood on the gate, meting out hand sanitiser to these getting into, whereas the opposite checked their temperatures with a thermometer.
The final time Hasan handed by this gate in March final yr, he was not standing in a queue nor was his temperature checked. They additionally didn’t must put on a masks.
But the pandemic modified all the things, forcing hundreds of thousands of youngsters like him internationally to remain home.
In a report final week, UNICEF warned that extended faculty closures throughout the COVID disaster accentuated “alarming inequities” for greater than 430 million kids in South Asia.
“School closures in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to transition to remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability,” UNICEF’s regional director, George Laryea-Adjei, stated in an announcement.
“As a result, children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey.”
Now that he was again in class, Hasan was ecstatic.
“I can’t describe in words how I am feeling getting back to my school,” he instructed Al Jazeera. “I am meeting all my friends after ages. It’s great.”
‘No alternative to in-person classes’
Like Hasan, 1000’s of scholars of major and secondary faculties throughout Bangladesh returned to their courses, some in Dhaka adorned with balloons and ribbons.
Many faculties welcomed their college students with candies and flowers as kids hugged one another in pleasure.
Education Minister Dipu Moni on Sunday warned in opposition to any lax enforcement of security measures within the faculties.
“The students of the first to fourth grades, and sixth to ninth grades, will attend classes once a week for an initial period of three weeks,” she stated.
Moni stated those that are scheduled to sit down for public exams on the finish of fifth, 10th and 12th grades will attend courses each day, including that each one different courses will resume progressively.
According to Bangladesh’s telecom operators’ association, solely 41 p.c of its 169 million inhabitants have smartphones, with college students in rural districts struggling additional because of a scarcity of high-speed web.
A examine performed by the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC came upon that about 56 p.c of the nation’s college students weren’t related with on-line or recorded courses throughout the pandemic.
“For these underprivileged students, there is no option but to attend in-person classes to get the lessons. So I believe the government has made a very good decision by reopening the schools,” educationist Syed Md Golam Faruk instructed Al Jazeera.
Students additionally agreed.
“Yes, there were online classes. We even got promoted to the next grade through our online exams. But there is no alternative to in-person classes,” Zarif Raihan, a scholar of Dhaka’s Monipur High School, instructed Al Jazeera.
“We attend classes to see our friends, chit-chat with them, hang out in the school canteen or in the school field. We don’t attend classes just for the sake of learning. Unfortunately, online classes took away all the fun part of learning,” he stated.
Raihan stated, “Things have changed a lot [since the pandemic], but the joy of being in the school premises remains the same.”
Opening with warning
Bangladesh on Sunday recorded 51 deaths from COVID-19, taking the entire demise toll to 26,931. With 1,871 new infections recorded, the variety of complete infections is greater than 1.5 million.
To reopen the faculties, almost 97 p.c of the nation’s lecturers and employees have been vaccinated, in accordance with the federal government.
The faculty authorities are additionally taking a variety of precautionary measures.
Students have been instructed to make sure hygiene and preserve distance from their friends in school rooms. The benches that used to suit four-five college students now host solely two at most. They have additionally been barred from bringing any home-cooked meals on the premises.
Syeda Akhter, the top at Dhaka’s Narinda Government High School, instructed Al Jazeera they’ve been strictly following the well being tips and protocols issued by the federal government.
“We measure the temperature of each student at the school entrance. We also make sure that they wash or sanitise their hands. At the classroom, students are instructed to sit three feet apart to maintain social distance,” Akhter stated.
Sheikh Sharok Ahmed, the top trainer of Mars Laboratory School within the capital, stated they have been permitting 50 p.c attendance within the classroom.
“We are running four shifts instead of two regular shifts, so that all of the students can be accommodated,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
Ahmed stated the coronavirus an infection fee within the nation is reducing and hoped the faculties will return to their regular states quickly.
“The government mentioned a caveat that if infection rates rise, then the schools might face a shutdown again. But I am hoping the situation will get better,” he stated.
The pleasure and enthusiasm of scholars and lecturers, nevertheless, have been in distinction to some dad and mom who fear a hurried reopening might put their kids vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
“The infection rate has decreased if we compare with July or August when we witnessed the third wave of coronavirus. But COVID is still there and I am not feeling comfortable sending my children to school,” Mahbubul Haque, father of an eighth-grader, instructed Al Jazeera.
Shahnaz Begum, mom of a highschool scholar, disagreed.
“Because of the school closure, our children were frustrated. They were all locked up inside homes and were getting addicted to their devices. This school opening has come as a blessing for them,” she stated.
Educationist Faruk additionally believes the reopening of faculties will do extra good than the fears of hurt being expressed by the dad and mom.
“The school closure in Bangladesh has been one of the longest in the world. There was no option before us but to open the schools, as prolonged closure during the pandemic worsened the inequalities for millions of children across Bangladesh,” he stated.