MOHAMMED NORUL ALAM RAJU and M MIZANUR RAHMAN
An increasing population demands more attention and higher investment in education in a country. It is great to see that we have developed a lot in terms of enrolment in primary education but it is equally important for us to note to what extent the students enrolled in the government primary schools are getting quality education and getting access to and opportunity for further education and/or jobs in the job market.
Day by day, our education sector is being engulfed by an unavoidable disease which we all see although none of us can do anything about it. If we note the degradation of University of Dhaka in the world ranking, it will provide us with a clear picture of which direction our education sector is moving towards. We studied in government schools, colleges and universities but do we really want to see our children going to government educational institutions like the ones we went to? Perhaps we will feel sorry and embarrassed to see this. There are, of course, a number of reasons behind this situation, the problem with education financing being one of them.
For the 2012-2013 financial year, the finance minister, AMA Muhith, has proposed an allocation of Tk 21,408 crore for the education sector of Bangladesh. In the proposed budget, primary and mass education ministry will receive Tk 9,825 crore and the education ministry will receive Tk 11,583 crore. The percentage of allocation for the education and information technology sector was decreased and is now 11 per cent (excluding subsidies, pension and interest) of the total budgetary allocation. For the 2011-2010 financial year, however, it was 11.8 percent. In his speech regarding the budget, Muhith said that the government was determined to enhance the quality of primary education, and plans to implement the Education Policy in different phases.
Investment in education is globally recognized as an investment in future developments through enrichment of human capital, and is a proven means of promoting proactive intervention that exercises social development at a desired level. As a third world country, Bangladesh has always given priority to education throughout its development path. Along with constitutional obligation, the country is committed to ensure education for all its children. Such efforts are also reflected in its policy and planning documents, such as the Five Years Plan, the Bangladesh Perspective Plan, and its active responses towards international commitments such as Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In their election manifestos, both the ruling and opposition political parties pledge to put the highest priority on education. As a result of such multifaceted efforts, literacy rate, which was 37.2 per cent in 1990, had moved up to 58.4 percent in 2009, and net enrollment in primary education increased to 94.9 percent in 2010 from 60.5 percent in 1990 (GoB, 2012).
During the last two decades, allocation for the education sector lingered between 12 and 15 percent, which is, however, far from the UNESCO prescribed level of 20 percent or 6 percent of GDP. On the other hand, this rate is significantly less than many of the African countries. Over the last decade, public spending on education in Africa has increased by more than 6 percent each year (UNESCO, 2011). In Burundi and Mozambique, expenditure on education rose by an average of 12 percent annually over the last decade. Out of the 26 countries with comprehensive data, only one – the Central African Republic – reduced spending on education since 2000. Overall, sub-Saharan Africa spends 5 percent of its gross domestic product on education, which is second only to North America and Europe at 5.3 percent.
Among the South Asian countries, Bangladesh’s position is still third (2.4%) from the lowest while Sri Lanka and Pakistan remain the poorest spenders on education in the region. India is spending around 4 percent of its GDP on education. In all of South Asia, Nepal is fairly better placed with a 3.4 percent while on the positive side, the Maldives has been maintaining a healthy 7.5 percent expenditure on education and hence remains South Asia’s best country for education allocation followed by Bhutan which spends 5.2 percent of their GDP on education.
Although the above mentioned statistics do not make us very hopeful about the near future of education in our country, it must be noted that education is still one of the single recipient sectors in the national budget of Bangladesh. In 2012-13, the education sector (MOPME & MOE) received 11.2 percent of total budget allocation which was second only to a public sector. But the fact is that 68 percent of this total allocation was proposed for non-development expenditure, of which a major portion was allocated for salaries and allowances for the teachers while the rest of the non-development expenditure would cover logistics and maintenance, leaving a mere 0.5 percent provisioned for teaching and capacity building activities for students.
As a result, this little provision affects our ability to set high aims in education. The teacher’s community was expecting to have an improvement in the budget for their capacity building purposes since innovative systems have recently been adopted. Yet, although two years passed have since the adoption of the new systems, no teachers’ manual has been developed and distributed to the teachers.
Whenever we think about the education sector of the country, we see politicization, nepotism and corruption everywhere. It may even seem fairly irrelevant to many of the readers to talk about education financing when major educational institutions of the country are in serious crisis due to political reasons. Of course, it is now essential for the country to keep sound environment in these institutions. We must come out of the corrupt practices because we need to retain a congenital environment where all students will find safety to stay at the educational institution they are enrolled in, study and plan for the future development of the country. It is very unfortunate that without political patronization, none can be the Vice Chancellor of a University and, at the same time, without giving bribe to the local Member of Parliament, none can be a primary school teacher. And in between these menacing practices, we all know what happens.
When such ill-governance is prevailing everywhere, many of the readers can find education financing irrelevant in Bangladesh – and quite reasonably so. We agree with these views but further stress on the belief that establishing good governance in the education sector is a pre-condition for solving these problems. Then comes ensuring proper education financing which is needed to prepare this huge population as human resources who will eventually be able to contribute to the development of the country.
MOHAMMED NORUL ALAM RAJU and M MIZANUR RAHMAN: The writers are Senior Program Officer at ActionAid Bangladesh and Program Officer at Islamic Relief, Bangladesh, respectively.