Education in Shambles
‘I have no tentative idea as to when I might graduate, although last year I had thought I’d be able to complete my last semester by 2021 at least. My exams were scheduled at May, but now that there’s a second wave of the virus, who knows when it might take place. This pandemic induced backlog is ultimately jeopardizing our prospects of getting a job-basically our future’. -Ashish*, a public university student currently in his final semester of university in Bangladesh.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only brought forth a health crisis of a herculean scale, but has also unleashed multi-sectoral social and economic vulnerabilities on people fighting already fighting a tough battle with a deadly virus. According to a report by OECD (2020), the pandemic has hit vulnerable groups disproportionally and is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities and economic as well as health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been asymmetric across age groups. Globally, current evidence suggests that young people are less at-risk in terms of developing severe physical health symptoms linked to COVID-19 than older age cohorts (WHO, 2020). However, the disruption in their access to education and employment opportunities as a result of economic downturn is likely to put the young generation on a much more volatile trajectory in finding and maintaining quality jobs and income. As primary, secondary and tertiary education institutes all around the world have faced prolonged shutdowns since the onset of the pandemic, it would be safe to say that the education sector is undoubtedly one of the toughest hit fronts in every society all around the world.
A Multidimensional Problem
While the trajectory of the pandemic varies across countries, most governments in OECD countries have implemented social distancing, confinement, and social isolation measures to contain the spread of the virus. In this context, youth organizations have expressed greatest concern about the impact of COVID-19 on mental well-being, employment, income loss, disruptions to education, familial relations and friendships, as well as a limitation to individual freedoms. Since the outset of the pandemic, over 70 per cent of youth who study or combine study with work in Bangladesh have been adversely affected by the closing of schools, universities and training centers, according to an analysis by the International Labour Organization (ILO). According to the report, 65 per cent of young people reported having learned less since the beginning of the pandemic because of the transition from classroom to online and distance learning during lockdown. Despite their efforts to continue studying and training, half of them believed their studies would be delayed and nine per cent thought that they might fail. However, the loss in schooling hours is not the only impact looming out from the Covid-19 crisis. On top of learning, schools are also a vital source of social protection, nutrition, health as well as psychosocial supports to children and young adults. Therefore, on top of loss in learning, school closures have far-reaching impacts on social and economic issues such as school dropouts, digital divide, food insecurity and malnutrition, childcare, as well as disability services.
Image: Candidates of a preliminary assessment for a government job stand in a queue
When it comes to tertiary education, the sufferings of the students of public universities knew no bounds. With universities closed since March 2020, students were not only the victims of a year-long session jam, but also extreme stress and anxiety.
‘Unlike private universities who have been conducting all academic activities such as exams and classes online, we had to simply wait for a decision from our university authorities, who kept saying that the situation was being ‘observed’, and thus delayed the much-needed transition to online classes. Where our counterparts from private universities have already finished two or more semesters we are still lagging far behind’. -Nishat*, a second year student of a public university in Bangladesh
The fact that a major percentage of public university students come from humble rural backgrounds brings the issues of digital divide into the limelight. Students living in dormitories are now doing online classes from their localities situated outside Dhaka, where existing mobile phone networks and internet bandwidths cannot support their educational needs.
The Resilience of Youth
Despite the extreme circumstances and adverse impacts on education and household income and limited mobility enforced by social distancing measures, young people in Bangladesh have actively participated in community mobilization and advocacy by arranging courtyard discussions and school-based campaigns to raise awareness about Covid-19. During these sessions, they demonstrated what should be done to avoid becoming infected. They also explained how to wear a facemask and how to wash hands appropriately as well as how to maintain social distancing, following the guidelines of WHO and the Ministry of Health. Volunteer groups marked circles or squares on the ground in marketplaces and in front of pharmacies and grocery shops to maintain and ensure social distancing. Young people also initiated a sterilization process in crowded areas like marketplaces, mosques and roads, requested people to remain at home and distributed protective equipment to local health service providers.
The COVID-19 crisis is will undoubtedly trigger a rise in unemployment and underemployment among the youth. It is also assumed that skills demanded in the labor markets will also undergo significant transformations. The government should, therefore, address the immediate, short-term and medium-term impact guiding responses for long-term sustainable approach
Image: Youth Volunteers in an event
Building Back Better
To build back better for all generations, governments should consider updating national youth strategies in collaboration with youth stakeholders to translate political commitment into actionable programs. Leveraging and capitalizing on young people’s ability to mobilize as a demographic in mitigating the crisis through existing mechanisms, tools and platforms (e.g. the use of digital tools and data) to build resilience in societies against future shocks and disasters is also a key reform that needs to be initiated.
We live in an era where it is difficult to determine whether the increasing interconnectedness of the world can be considered as a bane or boon. While covid-19 is undoubtedly at its heart a health crisis, in the broad scheme of things, it is a tripartite issue- with dimensions including health, economic, and social. Yet, amidst these trying times, youth of Bangladesh, and all around the world have displayed incredible resilience and conscientiousness, thus reinforcing our conviction in the motto- ‘That’s where the future lies, in the youth of today’.
*names have been changed to uphold the condition of anonymity*