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Results Briefs April 18, 2021

Keeping Bangladesh’s Students Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID-19 related school closures in Bangladesh started on March 17, 2020 and have continued into 2021, affecting about 38 million students and close to one million teachers. 

The World Bank

When schools closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the World Bank acted quickly to help the government of Bangladesh avoid irreversible loss of learning and human capital by redirecting its existing portfolio of education projects. The Bank-financed secondary education program provided stipends and tuition fees to 2.5 million secondary students (900,000 boys and 1.6 million girls) aged 11-17 and the Bank and government are working to revamp the country’s remote-learning strategy to make it more inclusive and accessible, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable.


COVID-19 related school closures in Bangladesh started on March 17, 2020 and have continued into 2021, affecting about 38 million students and close to one million teachers. The government’s main response was through TV-based learning programs. However, within a couple of months of school closing it was clear that student learning, especially among adolescents, was at risk.

A Bank study undertaken in May 2020 showed that around 55 percent of Grade 9 stipend recipients do not have access to TVs. Even among those who do, only 43 percent of children chose to watch TV-learning programs, the primary of remote learning during school closures. There were no significant differences between male and female students in terms of whether they watched the broadcasts in the previous week. However, there were significant differences by wealth. Among those with access to TV-learning, 45 percent of richest students (in top-most wealth quartile) watched TV-lessons, while only 36 percent of poorest students (in bottom wealth quartile) did.

The pandemic negatively impacted the overall welfare of adolescents in several other ways. Another Bank study shows that in June 2020 nearly 34 percent of households interviewed had to cut back meals for adolescents. Further, around half of adolescents reported that they were spending less time on education than before the lockdown, with 94 percent reporting increased time on household chores or childcare. Although the difference is not statistically significant, there is evidence that girls are three percentage points more likely to be spending increased time on household chores and childcare since COVID-19 restrictions began. Also worrying is that 25 percent of mothers are concerned that adolescents will not return to school when schools reopen, and this was equally true for mothers of boys and girls.

These disruptions have led to a decline in student learning and retention. Bangladesh’s Learning Adjusted Years of Schooling (LAYS) are expected to fall from 6.0 years in 2019 to 5.3 years in 2021 (simulation), costing the Bangladesh economy between $67 billion and $114 billion in GDP (based on January 2021 estimates).

Neither teachers or students felt comfortable or confident offering online classes or learning virtually from their homes. Courtesy: World Bank



The World Bank stepped in quickly through its existing portfolio of education programs to help the government respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included support for pivoting to remote learning, limiting student dropouts, helping to prepare for school reopening, providing online teacher training, and building future resilience of the education system.

The Bank developed a $14.8 million COVID-19 School Sector Response (CSSR) project funded by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and implemented by the government. This project is supporting basic education (preprimary to Grade 10) for remote learning and school re-opening. The CSSR aims to produce at least 35 grade subject programs in digital format to disseminate through multi-modal platforms (television, mobile, radio and online) and reach around 2.5 million basic education students. In addition, physical learning packages will be distributed to another 150,000 students.

Through additional financing, the Quality Learning for All Program (QLEAP) project aims to introduce a remedial education program to initially be implemented in 500 lagging schools and blended teacher training programs to help accelerate student learning recovery. At the secondary level, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has prioritized support for an estimated one million poor and lagging students who are not reached by the mainstream remote learning channel. These students will receive targeted and customized support to to prevent school dropouts.

At the government’s request the Bank is restructuring its existing Transforming Secondary Education for Results Operation (TSERO) to channel $40 million to the education sector’s COVID response.

The Bank also provided significant technical assistance and evidence generation. The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and Ministry of Education (MoE) developed a COVID-19 response and recovery plan which received initial assistance from GPE, UNICEF and the World Bank. The Bank also generated data and evidence on the uptake of remote learning, risks of student dropouts, learning losses, and broader student welfare impacts of the pandemic.

2.5 million

In June 2020, the Bank-financed Transforming Secondary Education program (TSER) disbursed stipends and tuition fees to 2.5 million secondary students (900,000 boys and 1.6 million girls) aged 11-17 years.


In June 2020, the Bank-financed  Transforming Secondary Education program (TSER) disbursed stipends and tuition fees to 2.5 million secondary students (900,000 boys and 1.6 million girls) aged 11-17 years. This helped reduce their economic vulnerability and their risk of dropping out. These payments to economically disadvantaged households were made on top of the government’s formal COVID-19 stimulus package.

  • The Bank collaborated with Ministry of Education on a series of pilots to minimize COVID-related education losses.
  • Nearly 1,000 vulnerable adolescent girls and boys and their families have been contacted since March 2021 by trained facilitators to encourage them to stay in school.
  • More than 1,000 Grade 6 math teachers have enrolled in a special online teacher course on content-knowledge and pedagogical skills.
  • Around 800 low-income secondary students and parents were given phone-call reminders on TV-based learning programs from May-August 2020.


Our analytical work (jointly with GAGE) has given a voice and face to thousands of students struggling during the pandemic. It has helped make concrete their struggles and concerns – and now Government of Bangladesh and World Bank are using this work to design and implement the policy response.

First, our analytical work has shown how much students are struggling due to economic setbacks at home:

A 17-year-old in Chittagong said, “There was no money coming in. We'd have to eat leftover rice soaked in water.  And in the afternoon, we wouldn't get eat anything at all. Before I would eat Horlicks and cake and biscuit in the afternoon.”

And how it is significantly increasing the risk of student drop-outs:

A 13-year old boy from Sylhet said,“I'm wasting my time in this period just doing nothing …. by [helping my uncle in his grocery shop] I can learn about this work.”

In response, World Bank ensured the timely payment of stipends complemented the government’s formal stimulus package to reduce school drop-outs, especially among girls. Fewer girl students face the risk the of being married off as a result of family financial pressure/World Bank analytical work also made it evident that TV-based learning is not a very effective strategy for remote learning.

A 14-year-old girl from Sylhet said, “We have a television in our home but not in my room. Can you always go to someone else’s room to watch television? That’s why I didn’t watch those TV classes. Besides, often there is no electricity or connection to the cable line…. We lose electricity connection every time it is cloudy outside!”

The government and World Bank are also working together to provide students with tablets to make it easier for them to access remote learning.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank is funding a subset of the government's education program through a results-based approach. The Bank has provided $510 million for the Transforming Secondary Education for Results operation (TSERO), and a $10 million grant from the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF). The Bank has also provided $700 million for the Quality Learning for all Program (QLEAP). The GPE will provide an additional $53.9 million in additional financing for QLEAP, and has provided $14.8 million for the COVID-19 School Sector Response (CSSR) project.

The Bank is also providing $100 million in financing from the International Development Association (IDA) for the College Education Development Project (CEDP) project. In addition, the World Bank is providing wide-ranging analytical support and policy guidance to the government of Bangladesh focused on education of adolescent girls, improving remote learning, and understanding the extent of learning losses.


In Bangladesh’s primary and secondary education sector, the World Bank is working closely with multiple government agencies and departments including the Department of Primary Education, the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, the Directorate of Technical Education (DTE), the  Directorate of Madrasah Education (DME), as well as the Access to Information (A2i) unit in Prime Minister’s Office. Bangladesh’s Local Education Group, which, in addition to government ministries and line agencies, incudes all development partners and civil society organizations working on education. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) supports the government’s formal COVID-19 emergency education action plan and its proposals for safely reopening schools. The GFF, Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE), and Georgetown University collaborate on work relating to adolescent students.

Moving Forward

The remote learning initiative is expected to continue through a hybrid model in future. The government’s recently approved national five-year plan (July 2020- June 2025) has reaffirmed the government’s commitment and support. The upcoming national education policy is also expected to incorporate many of these activities as priority areas of focus.


A student studying at home, Karail Taltala slum in Dhaka. Photo courtesy: Mowshomi Akter