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Pandemic to swell student dropout rates: Experts

Published : 02 Oct 2020 10:19 PM | Updated : 03 Oct 2020 12:55 AM

Many lower income groups are faced with serious financial hardships, and are now not in a position to send their children back to educational institutions, whenever they reopen.

These families will not send their children back to school due to poverty, and the long study break for the Covid-19 pandemic, educationalists and experts say.

They apprehend an increase in the dropout rate at schools, which can be prevented by special measures on the part of the government.

Last year, the dropout rate at primary level was 17.9 percent and at secondary level it was 37.62 percent. 

Poverty, child marriage and change of residence are the main reasons behind the drop out. 

Especially the slum dwellers of the city, and the children of the shoal (char) and wetland (haor) areas are the most affected group. Due to Covid-19 situation, poverty in these families has increased more than before.

About 20 percent of people in Bangladesh live below the poverty line. Experts apprehend that another 20 percent of people in the country may fall below the poverty line because of Covid-19. 

The non-governmental research organisation SANEM estimates, based on the latest Household Income Expenditure Survey, that as many as 43.90 percent of families of students could slip below the poverty line which was 23.90 percent before the pandemic.

According to a joint study by Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC) and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), the coronavirus situation has further reduced the income of low-income people in urban areas by 82 percent and low-income people in rural areas by 79 percent. 

Although they are able to eat three meals a day, they are not able to maintain nutritional standards, the study said.

Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director of the Campaign for Popular Education and former adviser to a caretaker government, told Bangladesh Post, “The Covid-19 situation will increase the dropout rate. In this critical time of Corona, poor families will try to earn extra income by using their children. Child marriage will increase.”

“Especially children in char, haor and urban slum areas will face more problems. Apart from primary and secondary level, the dropout rate will also increase among the college and university students who used to earn their livelihood by doing private tuition,” she added.

On March 29, the government introduced Television education for secondary students to minimize the loss of education. Later, on April 7, the government also started TV education for primary students. 

However, inequality between poor and rich families is being created here. Although students in urban areas can watch the classes regularly, it is not possible in rural areas as cable tv connection is not available in many remote areas. 

Masum Billah, an officer of BRAC education programme, said, “According to surveys from the field level, around 40 percent students are now regularly watching and studying Sangshad television. As a result, some students are naturally lagging behind.”

“If the poverty rate increases due to Covid-19, many poor families will engage their children in earning. Therefore, many of them will not return to school,” he added.

About the apprehension of increasing dropout rate, Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel, said, “It is an assumption. We can comment only after analyzing the class presence, when educational institutions reopen.”

“The government has taken special measures to keep the children of poor families in school that include stipends, midday meals and distribution of free books at primary and secondary levels. Therefore, in the last several years, the dropout rate has reduced significantly,” he added.