Despite growing concern over coronavirus, schools in the capital appear to be ill-prepared to contain any possible spread of the virus.
The correspondents visited 10 schools across the city yesterday and found inadequate handwashing arrangements, crowded classrooms, and students playing and huddling on the school premises.
The situation is pretty much the same in many other schools in the city, according to students and teachers there.
Experts, including physicians, advise washing hands frequently, maintaining hygiene and a distance of at least three feet from others to avoid contracting coronavirus, which has spread to at least 115 countries and territories, including Bangladesh. On Wednesday, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic.
So far, there have been three confirmed coronavirus cases in Bangladesh.
The authorities of the schools said they were trying to provide adequate handwash and soap to students. They asked them to wash hands frequently. Students were also being advised to avoid any gathering.
The authorities of at least five schools said they asked students not show up if they had any of the cold-related symptoms.
But many teachers fear that such steps -- taken following the issuance of government directives -- might fall short of the expectations, in case any of the teachers or students gets infected.
On Tuesday, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) asked all students of secondary schools and colleges to wash their hands frequently and avoid any kind of gathering as preventive measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Some of the teachers said the directive was "impractical" as the schools would not be able to ensure handwashing arrangements for all students and teachers throughout the day for fund crunch. They insisted that the government immediately allocate separate funds for the institutions in this regard.
"It's really tough for us to ensure adequate handwashing arrangements for around 600 students. Who will monitor it?" asked a teacher at Mohammadpur Commercial Institute Government High School.
"We put soaps at 18 toilets, but we ran out of the soaps within two hours," she said.
Contacted, Deputy Education Minister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury said, "The absence of handwashing arrangements is not abnormal, this is why parents should take steps. We're trying to raise awareness among all."
He also said the government had not yet allocated any funds for buying antiseptics, antibacterial handwash and soaps.
"The IEDCR has not advised us, why would we think about it?" he asked, when he was queried whether the government was planning to give money to schools for buying liquid or soaps for hand wash.
"Government data shows the situation over coronavirus has not yet turned epidemic in our country," he said, adding that two of the three coronavirus patients have recovered.
At Motijheel Ideal School and College, many students were found wearing masks. The school authorities held the assembly in classrooms.
But a lack of hygiene was evident at many places.
For example, there was a toilet next to the prayer room where a small zone was designated for washing hands. A tap was hanging from a wall with no plaster and covered in algae.
The toilets and basin for the students were unhygienic and there was no soap anywhere.
The toilets for the teachers, however, seemed fine.
"The school does not provide us any soap. I brought a soap from home and am sharing it with my friends," one of the students told The Daily Star.
Asked, Sahan Ara Begun, the principal, said they do not put soaps in the toilets as they fear those "would fall on the ground and make it slippery, posing risks of accidents.
"We've over 25,000 students at three branches … it's impossible to ensure soap for them all the time, especially when there is a crisis of soaps and handwash in the market."
She said the school authorities suggest that students carry soaps from home for their personal hygiene.
Jahan Ara, mother of a student at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College (VNSC), said, "My daughter told me that soaps are not regularly provided at washrooms [in her school]."
Asked, VNSC Principal Fougia said they ran out of soaps fast due to increased use. "We have bought enough soaps."
Responding to a query, Fougia said students' presence at the institution went down in the coronavirus fallout.
Motijheel Government Girls High school also saw a thin presence of students in the last couple of days.
"I was not sending my daughter to school. But she went there today [yesterday] to take a class test," said Aftab Ahmed, a banker. He said he gave his daughter a hand sanitiser in her schoolbag.
Headmaster of the school, Nazmun Nahar Shahin, said teachers were educating students about hygiene as a precaution against the virus.
Teachers at Birshreshtha Munshi Abdur Rouf Public College said the college authorities were not holding any assembly, sports and cultural programmes. Students were advised not to show up at the college if they felt sick.
They also said handwashing arrangements at the institution were inadequate.
Principal Lt Col Hafez Md Zonayed Ahmed said the college has around 8,000 students in two shifts and it was hard for them to ensure handwash for all the pupils throughout the day.
"The day we started keeping liquid hand soap, it ended within an hour," he said.
Talking to The correspondents, at least 10 teachers and a dozen guardians said the government should close all schools for a certain period to tackle any possible spread of coronavirus in the country.
"I don't understand why the authorities are not shutting down the schools. WHO has announced the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic," said a teacher at Mohammadpur Commercial Institute Government High School.
"Many guardians are contacting us every day and asking us why we're running academic activities as usual," he said.
Another teacher at the school said, "We have been told that everyone should maintain a distance of three feet from others. But here, three students have to share a small bench at classrooms."
Rokshana Yesmin Tithi, a guardian of a student at Saint Francis Xavier's Girls' School and College in Old Dhaka, said the government should close all schools for at least 15 days.
"The government of Jammu and Kashmir has shut down all primary schools after two confirmed coronavirus cases were reported. Dhaka is more densely populated than Jammu," she said.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, 39 countries have announced or implemented school and university closures as of March 11. Of them, 22 countries have shut schools nationwide, impacting almost 372.3 million children and youth, according to Unesco.
Replying to a query on the possibility of closing schools, Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury said, "Such reactions stem from panic … It's the IEDCR's call, not ours. They are the proper authorities [to take any decision in this regard].
"The government does not run [its activities] based on people's panic. It operates as per the advice of relevant specialists and scientific data when it's about any disease."
The DSHE yesterday instructed schools and colleges across the country to hold their daily assembly inside classrooms to prevent any spread of coronavirus, said its Director General Md Golam Faruk.
It also asked the school authorities to suspend all cultural, sports and other activities until further notice.
The Directorate of Primary Education issued a separate directive on Wednesday, asking all students of primary schools to wash their hands frequently and avoid any kind of gathering.
Teachers were asked to read out the directive to students at classrooms.
Source : The Daily Star.