Dhaka, Bangladesh – For the first time in 18 months, Adnan Hasan finds himself wearing his school uniform – a white shirt and blue pants – and stands in line.
The fifth student, wearing a mask, waited at the main gate of Dhaka’s Udayan School on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of children in Bangladesh returned to their class after 543 days – one of the most dramatic in the world.
As the children waited to enter Udayan School, two staff members stood at the gate, handing out handkerchiefs to the entrants, while the other checked their temperature with a thermometer.
The last time Hasan passed through this gate in March last year, he was not standing in line and his temperature was not monitored. They no longer had to wear a mask.
But the epidemic changed everything, forcing millions of children like him around the world to stay home.
In a report last week, UNICEF warned that long-term school closures in the wake of the COVID crisis had promoted “injustices” to more than 430 million children in South Asia.
“The closure of schools in South Asia has forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to relocate to remote schools in an area where connectivity is difficult and the use of weapons,” UNICEF chief executive George Laryea-Adjei said in a statement.
As a result, the children encountered major obstacles in their learning journey. ”
Now back in school, Hasan was happy.
“I can’t express in words how I feel and go back to my school,” he told Al Jazeera. “I’ll meet all my friends years later. It’s a win-win situation. “
‘There is no other way to make disciples’
Like Hasan, thousands of elementary and high school students across Bangladesh returned to their classrooms, some in Dhaka decorated with balloons and ribbons.
Many schools welcomed their students with sweets and flowers while the children hugged each other happily.
The Ministry of Education Dipon Hello Sunday warned against any form of tolerance in schools.
“Students in grades one to four, and 6 to 9, should attend one class a week for the first three weeks,” he said.
Moni said those who are expected to take the exams at the end of the fifth, 10th and 12th grade should participate in the lessons every day, adding that all other classes will start slowly again.
According to Bangladesh’s mobile operator, only 41% of the 169 million people who own a mobile phone, while students in rural areas still suffer from a lack of high-speed internet.
A study conducted by the BRAC NGO found that about 56 percent of students in the country were not connected to the internet or filming classes during the epidemic.
“For these struggling students, there is no alternative but to go to a private study to learn. So I believe the government has made the right decision to open these schools, ”academic Syed Md Golam Faruk told Al Jazeera.
The students also agreed.
“Yes, there were classes online. We were promoted to the next class through our online exams. But there is no other way to educate people, ”Zarif Raihan, a student at Dhaka’s Monipur High School, told Al Jazeera.
“We go to a classroom, see friends, talk to them, chat in the canteen or at school. We do not attend classes merely for the sake of learning. Unfortunately, online classes have taken away an exciting part of learning, ”he said.
Raihan said, “Things have changed a lot [since the pandemic], but the joy of living in a schoolhouse does not change. ”
Bangladesh on Sunday recorded 51 deaths from COVID-19, killing a total of 26,931 deaths. With 1,871 new infections, the total number of infections is more than 1.5 million.
At the opening of the schools, about 97% of teachers and workers in the country received the vaccine, according to the government.
School authorities are also engaging in a number of self-defense measures.
Students were instructed to take care of hygiene and to stay away from classmates. The benches that used to be four or five students now have only two. They are also forbidden to bring any home-cooked food.
Syeda Akhter, headmaster of the State High School in Narhaka, told Al Jazeera that they have been strictly following the government’s health guidelines.
“We measure the temperature of each student at the entrance to the school. We also make sure that they wash or wash their hands. In class, students are advised to stay at a distance of 3 meters so that they do not get too close, ”said Akhter.
Sheikh Sharok Ahmed, a senior lecturer at Mars Laboratory School in the capital, said he would allow 50% to study in the classroom.
“We are running four times instead of double shifting, so that all students can find accommodation,” he told Al Jazeera.
Ahmed said the prevalence of coronavirus in the country was declining and he hoped schools would return to their home countries soon.
“The government has issued a warning that if the level of publicity rises, schools will be able to stand up again. But I am confident that things will improve,” he said.
The excitement and interest of students and teachers, however, was different from some parents who feared that a quick reopening could put their children at risk of taking COVID-19.
“The incidence of the disease has dropped dramatically in July or August when we saw the third coronavirus. But COVID is still there and I don’t feel comfortable sending my kids to school, “Mahbubul Haque, an eighth-grade father, told Al Jazeera.
Shahnaz Begum, the mother of a high school student, disagreed.
“As a result of the closure, our children were devastated. They were all locked up in the house and were drug addicts with their weapons. The opening of the school has been a blessing for them, ”he said.
Student Faruk also believes that the opening of the school will do much better than the fear shown by parents.
“School closures in Bangladesh have been the longest in the world. “There was no other option but to reopen the schools, as the prolonged closure during the epidemic also exacerbated the inequality of millions of Bangladeshi children,” he said.