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Many in Bangladesh experience in-person schooling for the first time

  • Kazi Nafia Rahman, Staff Correspondent,
    Published: 2021-09-13 01:57:18 BdST

What does school mean? To 5-year-old Zafira Afrin Maisha, school so far meant meeting people online on her father’s laptop.

The first day at school, seeing yourself in uniform for the first time, making friends with the classmate seated next to you, or playing on the school ground becomes the memory of a lifetime.      

But like many children all over the world, Maisha started  school through remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.   

To such pupils in Bangladesh, Sept 12, 2021 was a special day - they had the first in-person class of their lives after being homebound for one and a half years.

Like Maisha, it was the day of discovering school for Iqra Jahan, Farnaz Islam, Twaha and Abdullah after registering a long time ago, in January, at Educare Hatekhori School, a kindergarten in Dhaka’s Mirpur.

School had been an unknown realm to them until Sunday, when they felt the excitement of rushing with books, copies, stationary and tiffin boxes in little bags after waking up early. A dream came true.   

Seeing the school gate and reading the name of the institution on the signboard, reciting the alphabets in chorus, playing with new friends, sharing the meal – for many firsts, they had to wait more than eight months.

The COVID-induced closure of educational institutions was instrumental in drastically changing the childhood of these students, much more different from those who had a break in study after years or months in school amid the pandemic.

The classrooms were shut right after some of them got admitted in a school for the first time last year, while those who enrolled this year never got to set foot inside an institution as a student.

For them, school is what happens on the screen of smartphones and laptop displays. The homework that comes through these digital screens is a far cry from experiencing early education life with peers.

And children without any technological support were robbed of any sort of schooling experience.

On the first day of reopening, 10 nursery students appeared at Educare. To them, it was all about sitting on the benches, learning lessons from boards, and meeting classmates and teachers who were only videos on screens so far.

So, how was the day for them?

“I feel great at school. I used to attend classes online and have never been here before. My friends are here. I love them a lot,” said Maisha, after spelling each letter of her name out when she was asked her name.

Farnaz Islam was the only one in the nursery class who sported the uniform.

“She was really happy to hear the schools are reopening. She was waiting to be at school. She put on her uniform at night and asked me and her father how she looked,” her mother Zakia Islam said.

“She woke up in the morning by herself. Online classes don’t have the joy of attending in-person classes.”

Iqra Jahan’s uniform was still at the tailor’s, so she came in a regular dress. But she was clearly exhilarated.

“No one is on the screen. These classes are much better.”

The parents, too, were keenly waiting to bring their children to school for the first time. They said the lengthy closure threatened to rob the children of the delight of such moments.

The parents think the confinement of children to homes during the COVID-19 pandemic impeded their mental growth and their ability to socialise.

“Arriving in school for the first time, the children’s joy knows no bound. It makes us feel great as well. Sitting at home became so monotonous. School is essential for their mental growth. Now they’ll learn everything gradually,” said Lubna Islam, apparent.

The parents complained that children so small gained little from online classes and kept losing patience midway into lessons. This also contributed to their addiction to devices like mobile phones and laptops.

Jannatun Nesa Swarna, another parent of a nursery student, said she had to force her daughter to attend online lessons.

“She’d watch YouTube videos once the classes are over. She is now glued to the mobile phone,” Swarna said about her daughter.

The teachers said they were waiting for the students to return and instil life in the school. They will now try to make up the losses in lessons caused by the pandemic closure.

“We will try to teach them the first lessons fluently. I hope we will be able to continue classes following the health rules,” said teacher Bipasha Biswas.

Sazzad Hossain, director of the school, said they reopened on the parents’ request although the government said nothing particular about kindergartens in the instructions for the reopening.

The little ones want to visit school when their elder siblings go. And they have become mentally weak after attending online classes. We are trying to hold in-person classes once or twice a week. In-person classes are very much necessary for the little ones. The first lessons cannot be given online well.”  

“We are giving them reading lessons, but we can’t make them know the letters online. It is necessary bring these children back to school. They have lost one and a half years already. It is necessary to teach them how to write.”