Education is the most essential component of any nation. Education in Bangladesh is under the ministry of education. The ministry of primary and mass education is responsible for implementing pre-primary and primary education all over the country. In Bangladesh, all citizens must undertake twelve years of compulsory education, which consists of eight years at primary school level and four years at secondary school and higher secondary level. Primary, secondary and higher secondary education is financed by the government and is free of charge in public schools and colleges. Bangladesh conforms fully to the UN's education for all and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as other education-related international declarations (Article 17 of the Bangladesh constitution guarantees that all children will receive free and compulsory education).The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) is responsible for curriculum development, selection and textbooks production. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is responsible for policy making, the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) under the Ministry of Education is responsible for implementation of education at secondary and higher education levels.
Even though the government declared education compulsory for every citizen at the secondary level, but according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS, 2019) the literacy rate in 2018 at the age of 7 years+ was 73.2% and at the age of 15 years+ was 73.9%. The literacy rate in urban areas was reported to be higher (80%) than that in rural areas (67.6%). The literacy rate of the female is lower in both urban and rural areas.
According to the Annual Primary School Census (APSC) 2019, net enrollment rate (NER) was 97.74%, and the total number of students was 1,63,36,096. It was also reported that the cycle dropout rate was 17.90. Remarkable progress took place in enrollment in primary education as compared to the last decade. Even though UNICEF differs with APSC, as per a report of the New Age, November 24, 2019, "4.3million children still out of school in Bangladesh: UNICEF". The most major setback for children in primary schools is quality of education, which leads to low-learning outcomes and eventually dropouts. In a report, S. M. Rayhanul Islam mentioned that there are 13 different types of curricula being followed at the primary level (The Financial Express, January 02, 2020, 20:39:39). Under qualified teachers, inadequate infrastructure, poor nutrition and food security all affect learning. Many schools are overcrowded, and over 80 per cent run double shifts. Teacher supervision, monitoring and accountability lack strength (UNICEF Bangladesh Country Programme for 2017-2020, Country Programme Document and Strategy Notes June 2016).Trained teachers in primary education in Bangladesh were 50.43 in 2017 (World Bank report) which is lower than India and Srilanka. The teacher student ratio has improved than earlier, now it is 25 (BBS, 2019).
Challenges of Future Education in Bangladesh: Following are the challenges of future education of Bangladesh.
Despite many initiatives still, the literacy rate is less than 75%, which need to be 100% in the future. Emphasis must be given to increasing literacy through primary education. The major causes hindering literacy are:
- Parents with little or no schooling;
- Mother or father with little or no schooling;
- Lack of awareness or stimulation as to the importance of reading;
- Doing badly;
- Child labour;
- Dropout due to marginalised and low income;
- Difficult living conditions;
- Children with disabilities;
- Unexpected disaster;
- Lack of safety, sometimes sexual harassment and abuse leading to girls' dropout;
- Sanitation facilities responsive to gender disability, as well as menstrual hygiene significantly contribute to performance and attendance of girls (UNICEF 2016);
- Full implementation of education policy 2010 could solve most of the barriers. Necessary changes can be made in the policy if needed.
Ensure Quality of Primary Education:
As Bangladesh's education system is very much diversified, it is difficult to ensure quality, especially in pre-primary, primary, junior secondary and secondary education. Fifteen different institutes are involved in pre-primary education, while 13 institutes are involved in pre-primary to grade V (APSC, 2019). The present census lacks data on wash block, playground, water, sanitation, boundary wall, electricity facilities, mid-day meal, etc. Recently the monitoring and evaluation division suggested the inclusion of these components into the APSC in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Top priority must be given to primary education to achieve (MDGs). Despite different educational institutions, there are 13 different types of curricula being followed at the primary level (Mohit Prodhan, 2016). Dissimilarities in curricula are reported in primary education and at secondary and higher secondary levels. To ensure better quality primary education, reform is necessary to minimise differences in curricula at different levels of education. Furthermore, if needed, the relevant act/law could be amended. Emphasis should be given to the following components to mitigate quality of primary education:
- Compulsory primary education needs to be adopted strictly;
- Primary education could include pre primary and extend to Grade VIII;
- The curriculum reform is essential so that similar types of books will be read at all types of institutions;
- Adequate number of institutions need to established for disabled children or there should be provision to enroll disabled children in all types of institutions;
- Sufficient numbers of schools should be established in remote and disaster tendency areas;
- To reach marginalised and vulnerable group of children, special initiatives should be taken;
- Kindergarten (KG) schools could be discouraged as they are creating dissimilarities in society. Only the children of foreigners working in Bangladesh and the children of Bangladeshis who have worked at different foreign missions or in any other jobs abroad would be eligible to get admission in KG schools;
- Enough teachers should be appointed so that a good teacher: student ratio could be maintained;
- There should be a provision of enough regular training on pedagogy, ICT and other subjects as per necessity;
- Regular monitoring on school effectiveness, teachers' activities and performances need to be ensured;
- Learning and assessment should also be monitored;
- There must be well educated strong management committees;
- The pay scale of primary teachers should be of a higher grade (grades of pay scale need to change) i.e. attractive in order to have brilliant teachers;
- There should be plenty of playgrounds, facilities for drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, electricity, toys, especially for the pre-primary group and for the teaching environment to be child friendly;
- In cities or urban areas, where necessary, school transport could be provided regularly and for the safety of children;
- Implementation of education policy 2010 except JSC examination; students could be promoted to Grade IX on the basis of assessment of the school;
Various types of institutions are offering secondary education and it has three stages namely: junior secondary (Grade 6-8), secondary (Grade 9-10) and higher secondary (Grade 11 and 12). At junior secondary level the curriculum is almost same, except Madrasah (Ebtedaye) education. Chowdhury, R and Sareker, M (October, 2018) reported that curriculum streaming starts at Grade 9, at which point students choose their future study direction from the streams of general education and technical-vocational education and training (TVET). Within general education, students choose any one of the groups of science, humanities and business studies. According to the national education policy 2010, "In the new academic structure, the secondary level of education will include Classes IX to XII. At the end of this level, students will choose different streams of higher studies according to their capabilities, or they will earn their livelihood by their acquired vocational education, or they can seek further vocational skills". Implementation of the National Education Policy 2010 could mitigate the present divergence in curriculum and syllabus, discrimination among various secondary educational institutions and among various socio-economic, ethnic and socially backward groups. There is a provision of taking special steps to support advancement of education in the backward regions as long as necessary in the education policy.
Higher or Tertiary Education:
The National Education Policy 2010 clearly specifies the objectives, aims and strategies of higher education. To reach the goal, tertiary education of Bangladesh is broadly divided into two categories—general and specialised. General tertiary education, designed for post-higher secondary students, comprises a 3-year 'pass' course and a 4-year honours course for bachelor's degrees, followed by a 2-year and 1-year master's course for pass graduates and honours graduates, respectively. 'Specialised' higher education—such as a bachelor's degree in medicine—requires the completion of a 5-year course of studies, while degrees in the fields of engineering, agriculture, textiles and leather technology require completion of a 4-year course of undergraduate studies (Chowdhury, R and Sareker, M October, 2018). As per University Grants Commission (UGC) report 2018, 155 universities (49 public, 103 private and three international) provide tertiary education. In the session 2017-2018, there were 3606137 students in public universities and 354333 students in private universities. There are discrepancies in tertiary education as public and private institutions are following their own curricula. Prodhan (2016), also mentioned that strengths and weaknesses vary tremendously among the students due to differences in curricula.
There are three types of madrasahs (Islamic schools) in Bangladesh: Qoumi, Hafizia and Alia. Quomi madrasahs provide only religious (faith-based) education (Ahmed,2004) with an emphasis on Islamic studies and Arabic literacy (Amin, 2013) and are private—although in recent years, there have been attempts to structure them in accordance with general education. These do not receive any government financial support and are financed with donations from national and international bodies (Ahmed, 2004). Embedded within mosques, Hafizia madrasahs are Islamic schools to teach the holy Quran. Alia madrasahs are mainly government-funded without the support of any external organisations. Alia madrasahs, divided into five levels, provide what is equivalent to general education, corresponding to the five levels of general education described above; Ebtedayee offers education equivalent to primary level, while Dakhil, Alim, Fazil and Kamil are equivalent to secondary, higher secondary, bachelor and master's levels, in that order.
Even though many components have been included in the National Education Policy 2010 but after one decade, now, it is time to evaluate critically or intensely go through the policy. What were the aims, objectives and strategies of the policy and how many of them were achieved and how many were not? If not, one needs to identify the limitations of and discrepancies in the policy, if any.
After identifying the reasons the policy could be revised accordingly or some changes could be made, as the demand of the people as well as the world has changed during this period. In a nutshell, in the near future, emphasis could placed on the following elements for a betterment of education:
- Compulsory primary education (up to Grade 8) to all and it must be 100%;
- Development of infrastructure at every level of education. There should not be any house-based educational institutions;
- All types of house based schools, colleges, universities and other institutions if any, need to shift to suitable premises;
- Transport companies could be established to pick up and drop students, at places near their residences. Introduction of transport facilities will reduce the use of private vehicles, which will be helpful in reducing traffic congestions;
- Modernisation curricula and uniformity of syllabi should be undertaken;
- Ensuring quality: In terms of quality education, we are far behind the rest of the world at every level of education, and specifically in higher education. To improve quality of education it is necessary to maintain teacher:student ratio (TSR). In our country. At each level of education more teachers need to be appointed to reduce the gap in TSR;
- Research facilities: There should reasonable amount of budget to buy equipments and to carry out problem oriented quality research in relevant institutions conducting higher education;
- Plenty of training for each level of teachers and other employees should be there;
- Harmonisation among different educational system and reduction of disparities if any should be brought about;
- Giving emphasis on vocational, nursing, medical, technical, ICT and other needs-based education is essential;
- Although some educational institutions have arranged online classes and examinations, and some TV channels have been broadcasting the classes, online education system cannot be an alternative to face-to-face or classroom based education. The long time closure of schools, colleges and other educational institutions due to COVID-19 has affected the mental health of students, especially, students of primary and secondary education. As an interim arrangement, classes could be arranged on alternate days for each class/section to avoid gatherings.
[The author is Controller of Examinations, Bangladesh Open University]