Nothing should stop a child from learning
The coronavirus pandemic has made me look at my surroundings in a completely different way. I feel it has made me grow up faster than I ever wanted.
In Bangladesh, we first heard of COVID-19 infections in March 2020. It took us much longer to become aware of how bad the disease was. Despite lockdowns, the number of people falling sick soared higher by the day. The virus affected every part of our lives.
For me, education is what has suffered the most due to the pandemic. The schools closed and millions of students like me were left in a dilemma. Many children ended up being completely unable to continue classes.
After the closures in 2020, many schools, including mine, started giving online classes. But these classes were very new to us and to our teachers as well. We all faced challenges getting used to the new methods.
The first problem I faced was that I didn’t own a mobile phone or any other device to use. Fortunately, my parents solved that problem for me. Even then, I had to struggle with the unstable internet connection and electricity supply.
Then I had difficulties in understanding concepts and clearing up confusion in online classes. Unlike in the classroom where I could easily interact with my teachers and ask them questions, I couldn’t do that when sitting in front of a screen. My friends faced the same issues and so did the teachers who found it hard to make sure that students understood the lessons properly.
Another thing was that everyone, even students, became more concerned about exams, even though, in my opinion, the goal of being educated is not examinations.
For children who did not have devices or internet connections, the situation was far worse. As a child journalist, I keep in contact with children from all over the country, from many different backgrounds. And through these conversations, I realized that the situation for students in many district towns and remote areas was challenging. Even when they could access classes online, I heard from students how they became depressed as they had to stay inside their homes for months at a time.
Through my reports, I tried to tell their stories. I reported about the lives of Raju and Rafik from Mymensingh who, after their school closed, had to start tending cattle. I wrote about Kohinoor from Dhaka, who was forced to become a domestic worker. And I heard from Farzana how she had to get married at a young age because her family could no longer provide for her.
Some children told me that they were not even aware of distance learning opportunities, and if they did, they could not afford the necessary devices or did not have reliable electricity or internet connections.
Our learning has already been affected by the long closure due to the pandemic. When I heard that the government had decided to reopen schools in September, I felt extremely happy and relieved. Out of excitement, I started packing my school things, eager to start learning in the classroom and meet my friends after such a long time.
With schools reopened, I feel we need to ensure that no more damage is done and students who dropped out can be brought back into class.
At the same time, we also need to keep developing our distance learning systems for children from all walks of life. The government can work with mobile network operators so that students can watch and download video lessons for free. Such initiatives will continue to help students even after the pandemic is over and ensure that we are prepared in case there is a need to close schools again.
Bangladesh has a large population and education is the only way to turn that population into our nation’s strength. We must ensure that the education of our country is not harmed more.
I think now is the time for the government to make big investments in teaching and learning as well as ensuring that all children have the necessary devices and know how to use them. Leaders from all over the world need to work together to ensure that no child from any country falls behind. Wealthier countries should extend their support to create a world of peace for our generation.
In the past, human beings have adapted to new and challenging environments, recovered from the worst natural calamities, and survived the toughest pandemics. I believe we can prove our strength again as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. I urge leaders from all over the world to ensure that all children have the opportunity to keep learning so that we can build a better future for ourselves.
By Gargee Tanushree Paul, 13, Grade 7 student and a child journalist for bdnews24.com’s Hello platform.