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Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah (R.)

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Corona Impact on Education:
DAM Perspectives, Practical and Policy Implications

1.0 Introduction
Education is attainment and application of required practical life skills capacitating people to take informed decisions. These skills range a wide variety of fields including economic, health, environment, etc.along withcapacities of partaking in society that have enduring impact on their life. The effects of education are manifested through changes that take place as results of learningsin the lifestyle and behaviour pattern. These expectation from education remains generic all along.


But with the changes in the world orders there are rapid changes in the lifestyles, culture, people’s choice and investment priorities. Corona pandemic since early 2020 affected all these substantially globally compelling all national and global planners to rethink everything. Education sector is not an exception.


While all contemporary discourses are around health and economic recovery, the education planners started facing challenges due to strict lock down situation and ‘social distancing’ compulsory requirements across the countries, restricting face to face interaction which is an essential element for learning. This article is to exhibithow the education practitioners at the field levels in Bangladesh explored the alternate modes of learning to support continuity of learning. The anecdotes are analyzed from the perspective of macro-level needs towards contributing to national systems and policy contribution. The flow of contents is thus a combination or macro and micro perspectives.


2.0 Macro Perspectives
2.1 Pool of alternate education platforms with access by vulnerable people is a priority need
Bangladesh Multi-Sectoral Anticipatory Impact and Needs Analysis Report on COVID-19 (April 2020) prepared by Needs Assessment Working Group (NAWG) provided sectoral overview and identified priorities. The findings of Education Cluster are summed up here.


Key Statistics • 60% indicated no regular communication from schools about learning continuity • 38% parents indicated no continuous educational support to children in lockdown • 42% had not heard of any remote based education activities • 59% households had school going children.


Anticipated impacts • Significant impact on continuity of education and availability of remote services for primary and secondary aged children • Significant impact for children from marginalized and most vulnerable groups in the community as they will have limited or no access to the alternate modes of education promoted by the government.
Needs and Priorities • Supporting the government to increase the pool of alternate education platforms made available, giving due consideration to availability and accessibility by vulnerable groups. • Increasing awareness among students and parents about alternate platforms available for education. • Awareness raising for parents and teacher that girls should be free from household chore and care responsibilities (gender stereotype role).


2.2 Local actors as the first responder can reach the most marginalized people
Four humanitarian networks of NGOs in Bangladeshjointly made a mapping of NGO responses to COVID-19. The findings show that, 212 NGOs responded in 49 districts across the country reaching 14.8 million people serving with emergency food, health (mask, PPE), hygiene materials and cash support. A significant finding in this survey was that the local NGOs spent around BDT 157 million (USD 1.8 million) from their own fundsfor COVID-19 response as emergency service to their community. All of these organizations worked at community level to provide Corona virus protection related awareness messages and materials like leaflets, picture cards and mobile messages.This forms as important element of life skills education to survive in Corona pandemic.


2.3 Multi-generational impact of COVID-19
Bangladesh ECD Network (BEN) as a platform of NGOs concerned with early child development (ECD) through an online survey identified quite a number of concerns apprehending affect of Corona pandemic on child development at the early stage of life, having longer time affect on the next generation population. Few selected concerns connecting to SDG 4.2 (Early Child Education) target is mentioned here.


Because of Corona spread through community transmission, our children and their family members remain at high risk of contracting the infection. In case of infection the neighbors and community also express hostility and turn their faces away increasing the burden of exclusion/isolation for the infected.


Due to the lockdown and social distancing measures a lot of poor families are experiencing a sudden income shock. The fall in income has devastating effects on food security of children especially those with limited assets. If the situation persists children will soon fall into starvation. Prolonged hunger and nutritional deprivation during early years will give rise to lifelong health and neurological challenges.


Heightened tension, fear and economic crisis experienced by adults and closure of schools/childcare centres may lead to a care gap or lapse in adequate supervision of children in the family. It increases risk of child drowning, road accident and other injury risks.


Apprehension of a major spike in infant, child and maternal mortality in the coming year as a result of disruption and cessation of services for children and mothers including immunization, child health monitoring, and cessation of child and maternal care as well as closure of day care and pre-school services. Fragility of these services could offset the gains in recent years in children’s health, care and protection. 


Fear of illness, illness or loss of a parent or a caregiver, closure of learning centres and other regular and fun activities, stressed out parents and shortage of food are likely to create mental anxiety among children of all ages.


3.0 DAM educational responses in Corona pandemic
3.1 Institutional preparedness
In support of continuity of field support and emergency relief services, DAM ensured the safeties of all full time 4,588 staff and frontline 919 staff. DAM supplied hand sanitizers to all offices – head office, 195 field offices and 32 institutions. All of them were provided online training/orientation on personal safety and risks of Corona transmission.
As part of staff development on COVID-19 services, DAM developed information, education and communication material like manuals, leaflet, festoon, guidelines for PPE usage, health centre preparedness, prototype speech for religious leaders on Corona Virus, Guideline for Community Health Worker, guidelines for vehicles safety and field office safety – all in line with the WHO and CDC, IEDCR and DGHS guidelines.


3.2 Public Education through Corona Dialogue series
As part of Corona focused development education, a 13-episode Corona dialogue series have been live webcasted by DAM Health Sector using social media on contemporary strategic issues. Main purpose of these web-based discussion was to generate people’s sensitivity and advocacy for required intervention in national health and education systems. Eminent practitioners, policy makers and professionals from health, education and development sectors participated in the dialogues for panel discussion and response to the online questions or comments. The issues covered in this series include, among others, Parents anxiety on school closure, Mental health and stress management, Gender discrimination and violence during locked down, Importance of nutrition to boost immunity in COVID-19 context, Impact of Corona pandemic on livelihood of marginalized communities and national economy, Roles of media in Corona related social stigma minimization, etc.

Besides education and risk communication services, DAM provided livelihood support in the form of emergency food and hygiene package to around 10,000 poor families in urban and rural areas. DAM also ensured continuity of healthcare services through its ongoing 43 health centres. It also extended support to the local government health system by providing input support such as special quality of full sleeve with head cover reusable gown for doctors and nurses who had been directly providing services to COVID patients.

3.3 Experiencing Potentialities and Challengesof Virtual education 
With the closure of all educational institutions due to Corona virus detection in the country in early March, DAM teams in both formal education institutions and non-formal education programmes started exploring ways to support continuity of education and also communicating emergency health messages related to Corona virus spread.In the context of mobility restriction due to country-wide shut down and social distancing compliance requirement, like many other countries, virtual education through electronic media and social media came as possible alternatives.


In the initial analysis, couple of challenges came to surface, which include reaching the students, preparedness of teachers, limited or no access to digital device, poor connectivity, etc. Though the challenges were common for both types of programmes(Formal and Non-Formal education) the situation become more difficult for the non-formal education programmes.However, through collective efforts the teachers with back-up support from field management teams worked out the process. In the following paragraphs thesestories are precisely presented.


3.3.1 Non-Formal education for Out of School Children and Adolescents
The journey began with a short survey to reach the Out of School Children (OOSC) who were enrolled in various Children Centres/Community Learning Centres (CLC) for various non-formal education programmes. The community teachers collected data on learners’ access to mobile phone – individual or home based, type of phone (smart phone or feature phone), access to internet connectivity, availability of mobile data services, etc.


This basic information helped the teachers to work in teams through a series of phone communication and planned theteaching-learning process. The teachers started using the parents’ (or in some cases learners;) phone number to impart learning messages. Subject based teachersmade group phone call where 5 to 7 learners attended the voice call. Teachers gave 10 minutes lesson instruction to these learners. Within a short available time, the teachers playedinteractive rolesfor lesson delivery, gave homework and made a short daily lesson assessment at different frequencies. In this way, teachersgradually reached all learnersthree/four times in a week. All teachers followed a coordinated daily class routine for proper phone instruction-based class management. The routine was shared with learners and their parents.


Besides phone-based instructional services, the teachers also used online based platforms like Facebook Live, Messenger Room, WhatsApp, Zoom Apps, Google Classroom (as suitable). The online live classes have been stored for use later by the learners. The learners who have access to smart phone or computer (family members’ phone/computer) and internet connectivity, could directly attend the live class.


However, due to limited access to device, poor internet connectivity and the cost of internet, learners’ online live class attendance rate was found relativelylow. A follow-up tracking of the learners shows that only 15 to 20 percent of non-formal education learners could regularly reach throughreal-time live classes.


To increase reach of the learners, various measures were taken as complementary to real-time class attendance. Making available recorded class video was one of the methods;the learners who missed the schedule for some reasons could watch the class videos as per convenience. Advanced level students/learners also collected these videos from teachers and shared with their classmates/group mates. Many of these subject based video lessons have been made available through phone memory card for offline use.Class videos were also made available in websites and YouTube as open education resource OER for fellow teachers as exemplar or demo sessions. Teachers gained better competence in online interactive class delivery have been encouraged to share their class videos in the common platform of the programme or the institution.


Simultaneously, the teacher also followed up children’s participation in the government launched public television-casted education programmes. Following the daily routine of class tele-casting, it was found that the children who have television at home or have access to watch television could join the courses. This was one-way simplex system where the children did not any scope to ask question about the lessons. Many of the learners have no access to television or cable network connection to view the televised programmes, ultimately limiting reach of the children.


3.3.2 Adult Learning and Education (ALE)
In the Corona pandemic context, the literacy and life skills education agenda of adult learningfocused to Corona risk communication messaging. DAM started awareness raising campaign across its fields in 43 districts for ‘hand washing’, ‘social distancing’, and ‘self-quarantine. In a month time between March and April 2020 DAM could reached to 270,135 individual people with clear guidelines on what to do. DAM field teams undertook awareness campaigns using mobile phone, electronic, print and social media. They distributed 155,000 leaflets containing precautionary messages. Festoons and other materials have been placed in different sites of the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar for raising awareness and keeping them safe. In virtual setting through Facebook live DAM continuously organized orientation and demonstration sessions and info update meetings for the service providers on COVID-19 issues.


With the easing of lock down situation education activities was expanded by the teachers through learners’ home visit. Since most of the adult learners stay within walking distance of the teacher, the teacher could move around to their students’ house maintaining social distance and with personal protection (using masks) to conduct the short-span lessons. The teacher could assist around 5-6 learners in flexible timing of the day.


3.3.3 Experience in education institutions
DAM experienced reach and teaching learning process related similar challenges in practicing and promoting virtual education at the institutional education programmes. However, the diversity is quite vivid as the students in these institutions are from various social and economic backgrounds and the levels of education programmes are also varying. Here are few snapshots:


In Primary and Secondary education including Higher Secondary Education offered by Ahsania Mission College (AMC), participation rate of students’ higher classes was higher as the students were relatively older and their access to digital device were better. The teachers formed groups of teaching community for mutual exchange of experience and peer support.


In Technical/Vocational education offered by Ahsanullah Institute of Technical Vocational Education and Training (AITVET) and Vocational Training Institutes (VTI) in different districts, the teachers made virtual education limited to theoretical courses and kept the laboratory/workshop-based courses pending until opportunity comes for face to face learning.
Graduate and Post-graduate level Teacher education, Higher education and Professional courses have been offered by a number of DAM institutions, namely: Khanbahadur AhsanullahTeachers Training College (KATTC), Ahsanullah Institute of Information and Communication Technology (AIICT), Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology(AUST) having Faculty of Education, Business schools, Engineering disciplines, General programmes. Participants/trainees and students in these institutions had relatively got better access to their teachers because of location (mostly unban centric students) and better internet access in virtual learning process, communication and follow-up discussion. Besides practical problems of laboratory work for engineering and technology related disciplines, one major challenge faced by these groups was relating to online assessment. At present, there is no national system of recognizing accreditation through online assessment.


4.0 Micro to Macro: Systemic and Policy Implications
Lessons for future from all these practical experiences indicate that the preparedness for education in COVID-19 era would have to be a comprehensive one covering Programmatic, Infrastructural, Environmental and Financial elements. These requirements are substantiated in the Rapid Response Survey undertaken by CAMPE where DAM was actively involved and the writer was a core member of the study team.


As a quick response to the emerging situation, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) as national coalition for education, have taken a rapid response survey during March to May 2020. A total of 115 NGOs and 11 Teachers association from the primary and secondary level have responded to the survey. The survey was to collect information on who is doing what and how the national level advocacy initiative could address the needs of the most marginalized through advocacy.


The survey shows that approximately 2.7 million learners affected due to COVID-19 of which more than one million were from formal primary education programmes, followed by pre-primary education learners (0.6 million) and non-formal primary education (0.4 million). In compliance with the government directives, all NGOs has closed their face to face education programmes. However, some NGOs initiated complementary interventions to raise awareness on the protection issues and helping learners to continue their learning practices using various virtual mediums, including telephonic follow-up with students and parents/caregivers, providing supplementary reading materials, and campaign through local cable network


Couple of challenges apprehensions relating to education continuity came up from this survey which would affect both students and teachers immediately and in the long run. These reckons inadequate protection of learners, loss of contact hours, risk of being dropouts, teachers’ job uncertainty, completion of syllabus, coping with virtual/ICT technology, weak or absence of ICT infrastructure, etc. Specific to learners the apprehensions include, limited or no access to digital device, irregular attendance due to work engagements, lagging behind in learning, increased dropouts, increased cost for education, increase in child labour, child trafficking, early marriage and early pregnancy, etc.


Based on the field findings from the survey, CAMPE came up with a set of recommendations for short-term measures and a medium-term expectation that at least a three-year plan would be required to deal with disruption of academic calendar, completing lessons, adjusting exams, adjusting vacations, supporting learners. Particular emphasis has been given on teachers’ skills development and Institutional e-infrastructure development complementing to mass-media (TV, Radio, Internet and mobile phone) based lessons. Through an open appeal through media CAMPE demanded for ‘Education Loss Recovery’ strategy to protect education gain and prevent reversal, increasing education budget to a minimum of 15% of the national budget as part of the national recovery budget and ensuring efficient and targeted use of allocated resources. As part of advocacy, all these issues have been shared at the national level through webinar and also placed through memorandum to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Education Minister on the eve of national budget session in the parliament (June 2020).

Dr. M Ehsanur Rahman, Email: ehsan1155@gmail.com

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