Bangladesh possesses importance in many aspects, particularly in the area of primary education, that convey the strength to the way forward. Having the development in economy and infrastructure or getting the significance in Geo-Political reality in the contemporary world, education stands in the background of all sorts of development and provides the intellectual resources.
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Education evolves as a movement
On the way to becoming a developed nation, the civil society comprising members from diversified corners started to be organised and started to raise their voices. The intellectuals and aware section of society are showing their interest in spreading out the notion of education as it proliferates to other goals of SDG.
Existing as such a turning point, the citizens’ platform organised research on the development issues of primary education under the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) initiative.
Intending to grasp root-level information, CPD conducted research in three upazillas of three districts in northern areas of Bangladesh. The upazillas were selected purposefully in poor areas. Ten primary schools were taken in reckoning from each upazila, and detailed information was collected with the intention of having a comprehensive picture of primary education.
Some significant features in primary education
As part of the study, CPD analysed the national situation of primary education regarding infrastructure, financial inputs and other issues. The data shows a broader line of national scenarios for primary education. Amazingly, some of the points become the same as uttered by different stakeholders in different workshops.
The broader aspect national feature of primary education in Bangladesh:
Teacher scarcity is a widespread issue that exists in many schools all over Bangladesh. This problem affects many aspects of primary education and mainly negatively impacts the quality of education. The delinquency was so hard that only one teacher conducted the whole school somewhere.
Recently, the issue has been reduced a bit after recruiting some teachers, which still exists in many schools. Whether the number of teachers is sufficient as per requirement, the head teacher has to be busy with so many administrative issues and other calls from the government, somewhat different from education.
Mid-day meal is a movement now, as the nutrition level is directly involved with the achievement of the students. It is identically essential, especially in the northern or another part of the country where the people struggle to live. This initiative could resist absenteeism and have an excellent constructive impact on the nutrition level of the children. It also has an impression on the classroom performance and quality of their achievement in learning.
Budget deficiency is another widespread issue in Bangladesh and has been revealed in much other research, reports or manifestations. The education budget has been reduced by 6.57% in FY 2016-17 to 4.51% in FY 2023 – 24. The allocation of resources is directly involved with the quality of the education environment.
Unhealthy government expenditure on education is another long-term issue as it is so far beyond the requirement, and it has been shrinking day by day. The percentage of government expenditure has been shrinking from 6.38% in 2016-17 to 4.53% in 2021-22. The policy behind this figure contradicts the commitment of SDG.
What field-level civil society and government officials say about primary education
The study by CPD grasps some citizens’ voices from three districts, namely Gaibanda, Nilphamary and Thakurgaon. The citizens’ platform provided some information and, at the same time, recommendations when and where it is desirable and relevant. Although the information and suggestions have been derived from three upazillas or districts as a token, it is deemed to be the voice of the whole country.
CPD organized three workshops in three districts and participants suggested many solutions as well and discussed many challenges and points for analysis and clarification. Among such inputs and discussions, some of the points are as follows:
Citizens’ involvement or community participation in the program is a significant primary and secondary education issue. Here the suggestion from the participants is, that citizens’ involvement is essential to ensure accountability, transparency and public access.
Social status of teacher
The social status of primary school teachers should be elevated. Notably, the motivation for duty and responsibilities generally comes from financial return and benefits. Then other issues like work environment, ideological stand and philosophical aspects motivate people. There might be exceptions, but this is the typical phenomenon. So, having an excellent social status can generate motivation and mental strength among the teachers to do something better.
Supervision and monitoring in primary education
Robust and unbiased supervision and monitoring are required overwhelmingly. Without responsive supervision, the accountability of the teachers cannot be ensured. Especially in remote areas like CHAR (meaning ‘island’), teachers are reluctant, and, in some cases, they hire substitute teachers who accomplish the duty of the original teacher.
It has been proven that the improvement of the infrastructure in different sectors in Bangladesh has reached primary education. In recent years, many development works on improving infrastructure have been done, and the situation has been improved to a significant level. Still, there is room for improvement in many areas where the facility does not meet the requirement of quality education.
In some areas, for example, some schools in Teknaf upazila, 90-100 students sit in a classroom, 6-8 students on a bench, gathered densely and cannot move freely; as a result, they sweat profuse and continuously, especially in the hot season. So, infrastructure still remains an issue that hinders quality education and engulfs other positive efforts to achieve it.
Subject-based knowledge in primary education
The scarcity of skilled teachers is a long-term issue, especially subject-specific knowledge and delivering competency for the teachers is a chronic need in primary and secondary education. Training is a significant solution, but not the least. Again, there are concerns regarding traditional training. The Primary Teaching Institute (PTI) provided C in Ed had been upgraded into a one-and-a-half-year Dip in Ed, which is compulsory training for the teacher.
In addition to that, there is ongoing in-service training through URC. It is a good sign that subject-based knowledge is still a concern, and there is room to fill the gap in subject-specific knowledge. This is why knowledge-based training should be modified.
Diversified citizens, as guardians, local government representatives, media reporters, education activists, etc., raised their voices and expressed many of the issues from their experiences. There is a projector in primary schools, but there is no internet, which is why the use of the device is limited.
Sometimes, the devices are being misused. For example, a provided laptop in school is used to play games by the son of the SMC chairman or head teacher. 40% of students have to take support from a private tutor. The guardians opine that this is due to insufficient teacher support or guidance.
The practice of extra-curricular activity is limited in primary education, and it negatively impacts the students as they become with other hindering practices like loss of moral values. Copying or cheating in exams is an unwanted phenomenon but exists. It is also the manifestation of a lack of quality education. When the students are unable to answer the questions, they commit to cheating in the exam.
There is digital equipment in school, but no skilled person can use the devices properly or lack of training. The citizens rightly noticed the ineffectual, biased, and corrupted monitoring system. The corrupted monitoring system can not ensure accountability, so their vigorous urge is for regular, unbiased and effective monitoring in primary schools from the government official’s end.
In some schools, most of the teachers are master’s degree holders, but the quality of education is questionable. It proves that the qualification of the teachers is not only the solution but also their commitment to accomplish their roles and responsibilities. The financial aid for the school is not being used properly.
The teachers of primary education acknowledged that they must share some of the aid with their higher authorities. The officials from the education offices identify problems, but they do not provide solutions. While deploying new teachers, the situation in schools has been improved. Community access and involvement should have to be encouraged more. The supervision system is traditional; it should be more cordial and intensified.
There is a gap between the teachers and supervisors in primary education. The supervisors show a dominating lord-style attitude and behaviour. Supervisors should take responsibility for teaching for several months as part of their training. The teaching modality should be moderated as per the situational demands in regions.
Some initiatives in primary education to make the newly commenced curriculum successful
The overall situation analysis, as stated in the different forums from the guardians, teachers, journalists, education officials or civil society, reveals the situation of primary schools in the country. Having such a reality, some initiatives can be taken to achieve the quality of education and make the newly commenced curriculum successful.
Before going to think about some solutions or initiatives, we can remember the past curriculum and initiatives taken to carry forward the education system. We can reminisce the last curriculum, known as the ‘curriculum of creative activities’ that was developed based on Bloom’s taxonomy. While commencing this curriculum, there was an aspiration to resist rote learning through its new initiative of creative activities.
However, the teachers of primary education were not prepared enough to grasp the notion of creative activities and convey and deliver them to the students. So, getting such a hard reality, the teachers and students became dependent on guidebooks, and eventually, the intended aspiration was hindered, and the curriculum was not so successful.
The learning point is that before commencing a new notion or theme, the policymakers should prepare the pertinent stakeholders and the whole system to carry on the process correctly. Otherwise, it will not be practical or become partially successful. The following initiatives can contribute to making the newly commenced curriculum successful:
Updating training modality
The training should be action-oriented and have an impact on the performance of the teachers. So, practical classroom performance should be included with training. After getting the theoretical training, teachers would perform in the class as per the schedule agreed by both parties (trainee and trainer).
While conducting class by the teacher and trainer would be present, and after completion of the class, they will sit together and analyse the performance. After getting the pros and cons, the teacher will make a forward plan to improve the drawbacks or flaws.
There should have a nationally widespread surveillance team to ensure the proper implementation of the curricular activities. The team will supervise the classroom activities and, at the same time, mentor the teachers.
This supervision will not be the ongoing traditional one. Instead, the outmoded one it should have to be supportive and action-oriented. Supervisors should also demonstrate the prototypical method and accomplishment so that the teachers feel free and open to his or her problems and responsibilities. Thus, there will be a soothing and functioning work environment.
Here, I can draw an example of my own experience. We, from BIED, implemented a project on ‘READING’ in primarily six upazillas of Khagrachhari and Cox’s Bazar districts. The name of the project was Innovation for Improving Early Grade Reading Activity (IIEGRA), implemented in government primary schools under financial support from USAID.
We developed many reading materials in early grades of primary education, specifically grades one to three. There were project staff to support the teachers, and simultaneously, there was extensive training support. The final evaluation was done through TANGERINE, which is an assessment system directly controlled by the USA.
The data collectors put their data every day through online portals. The actual project implementation tenure was only two years and a quarter, but it still yielded a tremendous achievement. In the second phase, the project was extended in some urban areas of Kumilla, Barisal, Sylhet, Jashore, Kushtia and Rajshahi districts, where no project staff supported the teachers.
As a result, the achievement was disappointing, although the teachers were very much motivated while training. It is significantly noticeable that somewhere, the sac of materials had not been open to use. That was a prodigious but throbbing learning for us!
Involvement of community in primary education
Community people are the real beneficiaries of primary education, and it is their right. So, they should be actively involved in the process of the academic system, especially in motoring and that will encourage them to comprehend the value of education and ensure accountability.
We have experienced many education commissions, curricula, and diversified education initiatives since our independence. Still, the quality of primary education is out of reach and far beyond our aspirations. The recently commenced curriculum deserves some good attributes, especially in monitoring systems that will contribute to achieving competency, whether it is implemented accurately.
Many of the education initiatives adopted before possessed many good qualities, but most of the achievements were lost due to a lack of appropriate implementation. So, we should firmly implement this new curriculum with due commitment and approach to achieve our aspirations.