Most of the south Asian countries possess some common characteristics. These countries are considered as less developed countries or developing countries. Almost all of them experienced colonial rule and they inherited significant levels of poverty after getting freedom from the colonial masters. Moreover, the population of these countries are very large in number, but most of them have the low levels of skills, achievements, and their participation in schooling are not very significant.
About half a century ago, these countries got freedom from their colonial masters and during this period of 50 years all of them achieved some success in human development condition. The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) introduced Human Development Index (HDI) as a scale to measure the status of human development of a country.1
Most of the South Asian countries have low level or mid-low level of HDI.2 However, during the decade of 1990s the trend of HDI showed that the human development conditions for all the South Asian countries were improving. During 1990 the HDI of Bangladesh was 0.414 and in 2000 it improved to 0.47. But table 1.1 shows that among the South Asian countries, HDI of Bangladesh is at the lowest level.
Human Development Index (HDI) in South Asia and Bangladesh
Table: 1.1 HDI values for South Asian Countries
The State of Education in South Asia and Bangladesh
To measure the achievements of the state of education of a country one has to address the issues of literacy rate (male and female), gross enrolment rate (primary and secondary), public expenditure on education, pupil-teacher ratio and so on.
Literacy: From 1970 to 1999, adult literacy rate in Bangladesh increased by 17-percentage points (Table 1.2). But still the achievements on adult literacy rate (41%) of Bangladesh in 1999 was lower than the weighted average literacy rate of the South Asian countries (54%). In 1999 among the South Asian countries, Bangladesh had the lowest level of adult literacy rate. In 1970, the adult literacy rate of Bangladesh (24%) was higher than the adult literacy rates of Pakistan (21%) and Nepal (13%), but after 3 decades these two countries have superseded Bangladesh.
For the last three decades Bangladesh achieved success in raising the literacy rate of female. The achievement on female literacy rate was higher than male literacy rate. Male literacy rate increased by 6.3 percentage points, vis-à-vis increase of female literacy rate was 20.9 percentage points. Moreover, the literacy rate of female (29.9%) was lower than the average weighted female literacy rate in South Asia (42.3%).
Enrolment Rate: In Bangladesh, from 1980 to 1999, the combined enrolment rate increased by 7-percentage points (30% to 37%). This is the lowest percentage points change of enrolment rate within South Asia. During 1980 the enrolment rate of Bangladesh was higher than Pakistan (19%) and Nepal (28%). But in 1999, these two countries reached at 40% and 60% enrolment rate, respectively.
Besides this, Bangladesh performed admirably, and it’s one of the achievements, in enrolling students at the primary level of education. The gross primary enrolment rate in 1998 was 122%. This enrolment rate was much higher than that of the weighted average in South Asia (101%). Next to Sri Lanka Bangladesh had the maximum rate of enrolment in primary level. Moreover, children drop out rate in primary education (before grade 5) in Bangladesh (30%) was lower than that of India (48%), Pakistan (50%), Nepal (56%) and weighted average of South Asia (46%). At the same time it is also noticed that Bangladesh had the highest primary teacher-student ratio (1:59), among the South Asian countries. But the gross secondary enrolment is not very high (47%) in Bangladesh. Therefore, in spite of very high enrolment rate in primary level, the combined enrolment rate is still very low in Bangladesh in comparison with other South Asian countries.
Public expenditure on education: During 1960 public expenditure (as % of GDP) on education in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was very low (0.6%). For the last 4 decades this share increased almost 4 times (2.2%). But still Bangladesh spent the lowest share of GDP on education. Even Nepal, whose share of public expenditure on education (as percentage of GDP) was lower than Bangladesh during 1960 (0.4%), went over Bangladesh in 1998 (3.2%).
In South Asia, India and Sri Lanka spent the highest portion of GDP in Education and among them Bangladesh spent the lowest level of public expenditure in education sector during 1990s. However, all these countries expended their maximum part of education budget in primary education. (table1.3)
Table 1.2: Education Profile in South Asia
|India||Pakistan||Bangladesh||Nepal||Sri Lanka||Bhutan||Maldives||S. Asia (weighted average)||Developing countries|
|Adult literacy rate (%)|
|Male literacy rate (% age 15+)|
|Female literacy rate (% age 15+)|
|Primary enrolment ratio (%) gross|
|Secondary enrolment ratio|
|Combined enrolment for all levels (%)|
|% of children dropping out before grade 5 (1995-1999)||48||50||30||56||3||14||2||46||27|
|Tertiary natural and applied sciences enrolment (% of total tertiary) 1995-1997||25||–||25||14||29||–||–||22||–|
|Public expenditure on education (% of GDP)|
|Children not in primary school (in millions) 1997||27||7||5||0.6||0||0.22||0||39||–|
|Number of illitarates in SA (in millions)|
|Primary pupil-teacher ratio|
Table:1.3 Public Expenditure on Education, by GDP and by Level
|Public expenditure on education (% of GDP)||Public expenditure by level, 1995-97 (% of all levels)|
Note: a= Data refer to Ministry of Education only, b=Data refer to combined expenditure for pre-primary, primary, secondary levels proportion for this purpose. All these countries disbursed highest level of expenditure in primary education.
Thus, from the above discussion it can be concluded that
• Bangladesh performed well and one of the best achievements in enrolling students at the primary level of education. The gross primary enrolment rate in Bangladesh is higher than the weighted average in South Asia. Next to Sri Lanka Bangladesh had the maximum rate of enrolment in primary level. Moreover, children drop out rate in primary education (before grade 5) in Bangladesh is lower than the drop out rates of India, Pakistan, Nepal and weighted average of South Asia. At the same time it is also noticed that Bangladesh had the highest primary teacher-student ratio among South Asian countries. But the gross secondary enrolment is not very high in Bangladesh. Therefore, in spite of very high enrolment rate in primary level, the combined enrolment rate is still very low in Bangladesh among the South Asian countries.
• Public expenditure on education as share of GDP in Bangladesh is the lowest vis-à-vis the South Asian countries.
• The adult literacy rate and combined enrolment rate in Bangladesh is still lower than the average level in South Asia and not good achievements. In fact, among the South Asian countries, Bangladesh is at present ranked as the lowest performer in education sector.
1This is a composite index incorporating the three fundamental achievements: a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living The HDI value for a country is calculated by taking three dimensions:
• Longevity, as measured by life expectancy at birth: 25 years and 85 years.
• Educational attainment and achievements, as measured by a combination of adult literacy (2/3rd weight) and combined primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratios (1/3 rd weight), ie, adult literacy: 0% to 100% and combined enrolment ratio: 0% to 100%.
• Standard of living, as measured by real GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity in terms of dollar (PPP$). (Jhingan,1998)
2The countries with the value HDI lower than 0.5 and between 0.5 to 0.799 and above 0.8 are considered as the low and medium and high level of Human developed countries, respectively.
UNDP (1999), Human Development in South Asia 1999. University Press Limited, Dhaka.
UNDP (2002), Human Development in South Asia 2002. University Press Limited, Dhaka.