Global Development Institute Blog

Hrishipara government primary school

The Bangladesh government closed all schools on March 17th, 2020 as part of a ‘lockdown’ to combat the virus. Since then there have been several target dates for re-opening, but each has been cancelled and we still cannot be sure when the schools will open again.

The Hrishipara Daily Diary Project has been running a ‘financial diaries’ project in central Bangladesh since May 2015, which collects, every day, records of all the money transactions made by our sixty ‘diarist’ respondents. We also keep track of their personal and social lives. This year (2020) we have been making a special effort to follow their fortunes during the corona pandemic.

At the end of September, we surveyed our diarists to find out what they think about this prolonged school closure. We also talked to a few schoolteachers.

Our diarist households and their children

Our general definition of ‘school age’ is 6 – 16, but in this survey, we included older children who were still in secondary school or were in higher-education when the outbreak started

How many of the children were in school just before Covid-19 closed the schools on March 17th 2020?

This question answered by guardians from 41 diarist households.

How many children were in school on September 30th 2020?

48 of them are not in school simply because the schools are closed: 1 because although his madrassa is open his teacher is not attending, and 1 because he wanted to start working to earn money.

What are the 50 children doing instead of going to school?

This question answered by guardians of the 50 children who have not been in school since March 17th multiple answers allowed: this is the total number of children (out of 50) for each activity mentioned.

Are children receiving any education while the schools are closed?

This question answered by guardians of the 50 children who have not been in school since March 17th.

7 have been taught by family members; 4 by hired tutors; 3 in on-line classes; 2 attend a ‘coaching centre’; and one is educated (for free) by a neighbour.

Is having the children at home inconvenient for their guardians?

This question answered by guardians of the 50 children who have not been in school since March 17th.

Nearly all of them say it is inconvenient to have to keep an eye on the children all day because this hampers their work; 2 say they are seriously worried about their sons ‘getting into trouble’; one says the inconvenience is ‘very mild, with no mental anxiety’.

33% of men respondents and 22% of women respondents said that having the children at home wasn’t a nuisance. But far more women than men respondents (35% of women and only 6% of men) distinguished between their children, saying that some were a nuisance and others weren’t; several men respondents made it clear that the inconvenience fell mainly on their wives.

Do guardians think it is bad for the children to be out of school

This question answered by guardians of the 50 children who have not been in school since March 17th. Multiple answers were allowed: this is the total number of mentions of each opinion expressed.

The two guardians who mentioned the potential damage to their daughters’ marriage prospects have unmarried daughters aged 22 (in class 12) and 18 (class 10): they are among our poorer households; we did not find cases suggesting that girls might be married off at an unusually young age because of difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Do guardians think their children are happy or unhappy to be out of school?

This question answered by guardians of the 66 children of school age in our diarist households.

Guardians said that older children are unhappy to not because they are worried about their education.

Is not being in school a more serious problem for boys, or for girls, or is it the same?

This question answered by guardians of the 66 children of school age in our diarist households: nobody said it wasn’t a problem.

The main risk guardians seem to have in mind when they talk about boys being hard to control and getting into trouble is that they start taking drugs (mainly ‘ganja’ – marijuana).

Shiuli School, a low-cost private elementary school in Hrishipara

We also interviewed four schoolteachers, again at the end of September. Razia teaches at a well-respected government ‘pilot’ High School; Amzad at a private High School, and Yakub at a private High School and College: these two schools get government grants that top-up their fee income. Feroz teaches at a government-run primary school. We asked them if and how they thought the school closure is damaging the schools, the teachers, and the students.

Damage to the schools

All four said that because their schools are losing income from fees and grants, buildings and grounds are deteriorating, and essential maintenance is not being done. Razia fears that the reputation of her school will go down because when students return, they will not perform well in exams. Yakub says that the prolonged period without income may put the very existence of his school at risk. Amzad fears that in the aftermath of corona government grants may dry up. Feroz thinks the reputational progress his school has made recently will be lost. They fear that the status of education in society will fall.

Damage to the teachers

All four said their salaries stopped soon after closure. Razia has been living off savings. Both she and Amzad have recently been asked to do some on-line teaching, without pay, and without any allowance for connection costs. Amzad, Yakub and Feroz are finding it hard to get substitute work as private tutors. They all say they feel depressed, bored and anxious. Others blogs we have published have shown that many other occupations besides teachers have seen severe cuts in their income.

Damage to the students

They all mention the damage to their students’ learning. They think that after so long it may be difficult to reverse this. Neither Razia nor Amzad thinks online teaching helps because internet connections are very weak and they think the students are bored with it. Razia fears that students and their guardians may wrongly believe that the government will grant them automatic passes to the next class up and that this will cause mayhem. They all agree that there’s a high risk that students will lose the habit of study and may become ‘undisciplined’. Yakub puts it this way: ‘they will lose backbone and will end up contributing nothing to the country’. Feroz suspects that many students are spending far too much time on Facebook.

Stuart Rutherford,
October 1st, 2020

All fieldwork for the Hrishipara Daily Diaries Project is now being funded by L-IFT. We gratefully acknowledge their invaluable support.


Read more analysis based on the Hrishipara Diaries:

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.