Coronavirus Outbreak, Schooling and Learning: Study on Secondary School Students in Bangladesh

Education systems all around the globe are facing unprecedented disruptions with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis and the ensuing social distancing measures taken to flatten the curve. It is an even bigger problem for Bangladesh, where the education system is quite vulnerable, as it is. This study will act as a pulse check on the children’s acceptance of the technology-based learning initiatives taken by the government, and the long term impact on their development caused by the disruption. 

Researchers: Niaz Asadullah; Anindita Bhattacharjee; Montajima Tasnim; Farzin Mumtahena

Timeline: April 2020–June 2020

Status: Completed

Contact: Montajima Tasnim;



The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education systems around the world, pushing the majority of children temporarily out of school. With close to 40 million children enrolled in school, Bangladesh is among the countries most affected by a complete shutdown. Given the poorly governed and under-provided institutional facilities, school attendance in the country is poorly rewarded in terms of what is learnt in the classroom. The Coronavirus related disruption is likely to deepen the country’s ongoing learning crisis. With all schools closed for a period of at least two months, the immediate challenge for the policymakers, therefore, is safeguarding learning time and well-being while children remain out of school.

Regardless of its impact on household poverty, the Coronavirus pandemic will directly impact learning outcomes by reducing time spent in learning activities, in and out of school. While in-school disruption is universal, out-of-school learning deprivation will vary depending on the socio-economic status of the household, access to technology, and parental capabilities. There is likely to be gendered response in terms of children’s learning needs at home as well. If unaddressed, the sudden nationwide shutdown also risks reversing some of the earlier achievements with improved access to education such as close to universal primary school enrolment and attainment of gender parity in secondary education. Children from poor households and female adolescents remain particularly vulnerable.


  1. To document disruption to learning activities and time allocation, including gender disparity
  2. To inform the government on the outreach and uptake of its technology-driven initiatives
  3. To examine the later impact of Coronavirus shock on a range of child outcomes.

This study is relevant to SDG 4 (Quality Education), particularly to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.


Phase 1 (April 2020)

We gathered primary data through a purposive multi-respondent survey. The sample frame comes from a pre-existing nationwide survey (N=3000) of rural households, conducted by BIGD in December 2017. For urban areas, a slum-based sample was used(N=3,000). Data collection was done over the phone (BIGD had the complete list of phone numbers). The nationwide coverage facilitated the analysis of the spatial variation in the disruption to home-based learning activities caused by the outbreak. To capture within household gender disparity, we interviewed children of both genders in households where possible (conditional on household composition). We interviewed 5,193 children in 4,672 households.

Specific features of the survey design are:

  1. The primary population in this study are secondary school children, across grades 6-10.
  2. We gathered activity-wise time use data for children and their mother (with a small sub-set of overlapping questions).
  3. We used two reference periods: a week before the shutdown (e.g. first week of March) and current (survey) week.
  4. Pre-existing background information (e.g. gender, age, and name) were made available to the interviewer as pre-existing records. BIGD has an automated provision to match the newly collected data to earlier records. This helped keep the phone interview short.

Phase 2 (May-June 2020)

We will collect panel data in two subsequent rounds during May-June 2020

Findings and Recommendations 

We found a widespread disruption of education and a drastic reduction of study time during the school closure because of COVID-19.  It is reasonable to expect that during the unscheduled, long school closure, children would spend more time studying at home than before, with private tutors and parents, by themselves, or using technology, for example, classes offered on television. But it turns out, the study time at home actually went down from usual during the school closure. This means the learning loss has been greater than what it should be because of school closure. We found that the children of parents with higher education (higher secondary or above) were learning significantly longer at home compared to the children of parents without education. But even for the former group, the time spent on learning at home was nowhere near to closing the gap in the loss of learning at school.

The government offered classes on national television to compensate for the school closure. Our study found that more than a third of the children did not have access to a television, who were automatically left out of this facility. But even when they had access, very few children watched the classes offered on the television, for example, only 25 per cent of the rural children with access to the television watched them. Use of internet in learning was almost non-existent among the students surveyed.

We conclude that studying at home cannot be a substitute for schools, and the months of school closure is likely to have a deep, long-term impact on the learning outcomes of the school children in Bangladesh. Thus, the government must come up with remedial measures to compensate for the learning loss during the pandemic.