Golam Kibria used to teach at a private school in Parbatipur town in Dinajpur before the pandemic hit the country.
But the 25-year-old man lost his earnings as the schools closed, and in just a few months, he found himself carrying sacks of cement, sand, and bricks at construction sites.
“I can’t find words to express how difficult it is for someone who used to teach in classrooms to work as a mason’s helper,” Kibria told this correspondent last week.
The National University graduate of sociology joined Brighten Residential Model School at Parbatipur last year at a monthly salary of Tk 3,000. He supplemented that income by giving private tuitions to support his family of six.
But everything came to a grinding halt during the pandemic. The school stopped paying salaries in April. Left with no other source of income, he eventually started working as a mason’s helper.
Kibria’s situation mirrors those of many. Meherul Islam was a teacher of Roujatul Adab Kindergarten School in Sundarganj of Gaibnadha for four years. He now ekes out a living by operating a boat on the Teesta river.
“As a sole breadwinner, I have to make the decision for the sake of my life. I have to feed my wife and elderly parents,” he said.
Meherul used to earn Tk 5,500 as monthly salary and around Tk 5,000 from private tuitions. He now earns about Tk 6,000 by operating the boat.
“But the water level in the river will start to fall in the dry season. There will be no earning from the boat then. I don’t know what I will do then,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak and resulting shutdown of the economy have thrown the lives of many teachers like Kibria and Meherun into disarray. As the country celebrates World Teachers Day today, many teachers of private schools, especially the ones outside Dhaka, are struggling with no financial assistance from the government.
The theme of this year’s day is: “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”.
In Bangladesh, the teachers of many kindergarten and other primary-level schools and non-MPO (Monthly Pay Order) secondary schools are ill-paid. They provide private tuitions to make ends meet.
The pandemic forced many of the teachers to change their profession and caused some schools to shut. The specific data on it is hard to come by.
Many private schools, mostly kindergartens, are also undergoing monetary crunch while their teachers are not getting their full salaries.
Mizanur Rahman, secretary general of Bangladesh Kindergarten Association, said an estimated 20 percent of kindergarten teachers have switched to other professions.
There are about 40,000 kindergarten schools in the country with around six lakh teachers, he said.
“Hundreds of teachers are working as labourers at shops, selling seasonal fruits, vegetables, or driving auto-rickshaws and there-wheelers.”
Safayet Hossain, general secretary of Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikya Parishad, demanded that the teachers be given financial assistance in the form of soft loans for owners of kindergartens and waiver of utility bills for the hard-hit schools.
If the government doesn’t provide any assistance and the Covid-19 crisis lingers on, many of the kindergartens across the country will be closed, according to leaders of the teacher’s associations.
Infrastructures of 500 schools have been put on sale, said insiders of the sector.
Primary and Mass Education State Minister Zakir Hossain said authorities of the kindergartens should contact the Prime Minister’s Office to seek financial assistance from the government.
“The PMO handled the incentives. I am not in a position to comment on the issue,” he added.
The government in June allocated Tk 46.63 crore as one-time “special grant” for teachers and other staff members of schools and colleges, which have not yet been included in the MPO scheme.
As many as 80,747 non-MPO teachers got Tk 5,000 each and 25,038 non-MPO staff members got Tk 2,500 each.
But Nazrul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh Teachers’ Association, thinks the actual number of affected teachers and institutions is higher.
He said more than two lakh teachers of non-MPO secondary schools and colleges are facing hardships.
He urged the government to provide the support one more time to help the teachers in crisis.