KHANDAKER LUTFUL KHALED and MOHAMMAD NORUL ALAM RAJU
Education has got the highest potential to secure social justice. It is believed to be a fundamental human right, the responsibility of a state and a core element of national development policy. For a state education irrefutably has the obligation to be seen from rights perspective. Despite having affirmation of education as fundamental right in the human rights policy instruments, right to education in Bangladesh is yet to be fully implemented presumably because of the fact that it has been articulated as the fundamental principle in the national constitution instead of fundamental human right.
Since the British regime, education has received much attention in this region. Primary Education Act (1919), Bengal (Rural) Primary Education Act (1930), East Bengal (corrected) Primary Education Act (1951), East Pakistan Rural Primary Education (additional) Act (1957) are some the instances in the pre independence period. After the independence the Primary Schools (Taking Over) Act (1974), Primary Education Act (1981), Primary Education Management Decentralization Ordinance (1981), and Compulsory Primary Education Act (1990) came into being to develop the institutional structure towards universal and compulsory primary education.
The new education policy (2010) also envisages promoting access to quality education for all but the existing education trend characterized by wide spread discrimination, huge number of non professional teachers, unaccountable education governance and on the whole the multi-tracking education system can hardly address the widening gap in terms of educational access and quality across the socio-economic classes. As long as state’s policy is concerned educational access in Bangladesh, apart from the existence of all the policies and legal frameworks, has hardly pursued the Rights Based Approach aiming to create an equitable education system that overcome inequity and discrimination in societies. Therefore, it is the high time for Bangladesh to be in solidarity with the 135 nations of the world that have declared education as fundamental human right.
For realization of everyone’s right to education, adequate public finance is prior important area. “Every child has the right to free and compulsory education. There should be no charges, direct or indirect, for primary education. Education must gradually be made free at all levels”. Article 26 (1), of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) substantiates the above statement, it articulates that “everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.
According to the international benchmark every government must allocate at least 20% of its national budget for education or invest 6% of its GDP in education. If any government spends less or reduces its percentage allocation to education it is surely violating the commitment for achieving Education For All (EFA) by 2015. Bangladesh being one of the signatories of EFA should make sure a healthy percentage of public funds to be spent for education. According to 2012-13 fiscal years Bangladesh spends only 11% of its national budget which is well below the EFA commitment of 20%. After quite a long time Bangladesh now have an education policy in place which is believed to be pro poor and inclusive and has been accepted by all. As a matter of fact the political commitment of the government is stuck in declaring the policy because the government has not been able to devise a practical financial arrangement for implementing the national education policy (2010). Surprisingly enough, the critical examine of public finance in education shows that financing in the sector has declined since the declaration of the policy, because the share of education as percentage of national budget has gone down, albeit one might say that the public investment in education has increased as the allocation for education in absolute amount slightly rose than before.
On the other, Bangladesh needs to have an accountable and democratic education sector plan (long term strategic plan for education). Education agenda and importance of increasing education financing need to incorporate in the national development plans and have to come in line with national budget preparation process. For example the Primary Education Development Programme-III is not yet in line with sixth five year plan. An education sector plan will allow us to consolidate the recurrent and capital financial requirements, as well as national and international resources in a medium-term expenditure framework for the education sector. This framework will guide and prioritize education strategies and expenditures according to an overall coherent sectoral development plan. For a higher share of public spending in education (6% of GDP or 20% national budget) Bangladesh needs to have a firm and sustainable funding base to finance the education sector plan to achieve our national vision of education.
In this backdrop, some critical educational issues that need to be addressed through immediate policy interventions. The Government has to abolish school fees and all other mandatory and voluntary costs that parents have to pay for their children now. There should be no charges, direct or indirect, for primary education and education must gradually be made free at all levels. Although government decided to initiate mid day meal in schools but we haven’t seen any solid steps in this regard from govt. If we critically look at the issue then we will see that it was not included in the midterm budget framework.
It is fact that for quality education we need quality teachers and to bring meritorious and talented personnel in teaching profession we have to have a good salary structure for teachers which should be set in harmony with present consumer market context. Government is keen on implementing inclusive education however our classroom, teachers and teaching learning materials are not yet ready for this. Government needs to recruit more Ethnic teachers to ensure the first two years of learning of ethnic children in their mother tongue. There is need for printing books in their own languages.
Government has declared that primary education to be up to grade VIII. At the moment government has 81508 formal primary schools where only 1692 (only 2%) schools are currently ready to accommodate classes up to grade VIII. This dilemma should be solved immediately and need to take actions for infrastructure reformation in line with education policy. Government has decided to start pre-primary in all primary schools but for they need 95000 dedicated teachers to be recruited, dedicated class room, learning materials etc. What is government’s plan around these?
Writer: KHANDAKER LUTFUL KHALED: Program Manager-Education, ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh and MOHAMMAD NORUL ALAM RAJU: Senior Program officer-Education, ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.