The government of Bangladesh has taken several measures to limit the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. There has been a nationwide lockdown since late March 2020, with all educational facilities closed in mid-March. Schools may remain shut until September 2020.
The lockdown has pushed families below the poverty line, forcing them to rely on financial and food support from the government and other institutions. The new reality is significantly increasing the vulnerability of already vulnerable girls and their families in several ways. While schools are closed, girls are not receiving proper learning support at home, which is widening the learning gap.
When parents and caregivers have no income, the health of all household members is at risk due to lack of food and nutrition. Many of the poorest caregivers have very little formal education, which means they often lack knowledge of good hygiene behaviour. Parents/caregivers are experiencing significant levels of mental stress due to the lack of work and uncertainty about the future. This, in turn, affects the wellbeing of the girls, who may be exposed to violence within their home and community.
Many schools lack of proper hygiene facilities, including hand-washing stations. Teachers lack knowledge about safe school practices. Stress caused by uncertainty due to the pandemic is likely to affect the mental health of teachers and students.
As a result, there is a high possibility of an increased dropout rate among girls due to child labour, early marriage or caregivers keeping girls at home because of concerns about the safety within schools.
Save the Children has initiated awareness-raising text and voice messages on COVID-19 and girls' education for targeted parents and teachers. Voice messages are sent to targeted parents about how they can keep themselves and their children safe during the pandemic, how to support children's mental wellbeing, and why children should continue their education and get back to school when they reopen.Leaflets with similar messages have also been distributed.
Distance learning is provided to girls over the phone and through sessions delivered by education facilitators in outside spaces wearing personal protective equipment. These programmes are being carried out in Jamalpur and Kurigram districts, which are characterised by high rates of poverty, illiteracy, early marriage and girls dropping out of school.
Bangladesh is home to over 1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017, when they fled violence and human rights abuses in Rakhine state, Myanmar. There are over 500,000 children living in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar. For almost 3 years they have had extremely limited access to life-saving services, including education.
Teaching material is restricted to lower grades, covering only basic subjects, and children only attend school for 2 hours a day. As a result, over 95% of Rohingya children over the age of 15 are in no form of school whatsoever. The government of Bangladesh restricted formal learning for Rohingya children since their arrival, however, in January 2020, in a decision celebrated by the Rohingya community worldwide, the government of Bangladesh approved the use of the Myanmar national curriculum in the camps.
Save the Children, in partnership with UNICEF and UNHCR, has been leading the development of Myanmar Curriculum Pilot Project – which was scheduled to begin in April 2020 with the aim of reaching 10,000 children by the end of 2020.
However, in a bid to prevent COVID-19 reaching the camps, the government of Bangladesh shifted all service provision to 'essential' and then 'critical only'. This change closed all child-friendly spaces and temporary learning centres, leaving half a million children without access to any learning opportunities or services that could provide vital support in times of crisis. In addition, an internet ban that has been in place in the camps since September 2019 means that piloting remote forms of mental health support or educational activities is extremely challenging, and in many cases, impossible. These key services must urgently be reestablished.
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