Education is recognized as one of the key elements for building an empowered knowledge-base society to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st Century. Deprivation from getting access to education itself is a key element of poverty. In Bangladesh, deprivation among the poor and marginalized in accessing educational facilities is disproportionately high and lack of education in turns limits their capacity to overcome poverty ; there by creating an inter-generational vicious cycle.
A Case Study: Over three lakh children do not get primary education in Northern Districts
Over three lakh children in the northern districts do not go to primary schools mainly because of the object poverty and absence of educational institutions nearby. The children of the poor families in the char areas of Bogra, Rangpur, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Pabna and Sirajgonj districts are deprived of primary education. Many of the primary schools in the low lying areas of these districts have either been washed away by river erosion or have shifted to other places under the threat of erosion. At least 10,000 villages in these districts were lost to the rivers over the years. About 350 government and non-government primary schools in these villages also vanished. Besides, nearby 300 primary schools in the flood prone areas of these districts were shifted to safer places under the threat of erosion. The two, combined, have blocked the opportunity of primary education to the poor children of these districts. (Source: The New Age, June 8, 2005)
Bangladesh is a developing country with a population of about 130 million. The country completed three decades of its independence from Pakistani rule in 1971.The constitution of Bangladesh enshrines the right of every citizen to free universal primary education. The emergence of Bangladesh after a bloody Liberation War in December 1971 gave impetus to the goal of universal primary education. As one of the most active Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Bangladesh is a signatory to the declaration at the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) held in March 1990 in Jomtein, Thailand. The Government repeated its commitment in the EFA ministerial review meeting of Indonesia held in September 1995, Pakistan in September 1997, and China in August 2001. The Government of Bangladesh has made commitments in Education Forum (Dakar, April, 2000) towards achievement of EFA goals and targets for every citizen by the year 2015.
Millennium Development Goal (MDG):
Goal-2: Attain universal primary education.
Target-3: Attain universal primary education for all girls and boys of primary school age by 2015.
To fulfill this goal, it will require development of basic infrastructure for primary education as well as social inclusion to ensure the rights of the marginalized and disadvantaged people of Bangladesh.
Since the birth of Bangladesh, various laws have been passed regarding primary education including Primary School Act 1974, the Primary Education Act 1981, and the Compulsory Primary Education Act 1990.The act of 1974 provided free primary education for all over the country and teachers of primary school became central government servants. The act placed upon the government onus of bringing the primary school system under a centralized administration from the previous district based management. The act of 1981 made provisions for the establishment of Local Educational Authorities at the sub-divisions (present districts).The act also provided for school based management and the formation of School Management committee (SMC). The act of 1981, however, was not implemented; it was promulgated as a decree by the then military ruler, but was no followed up with necessary administrative steps for implementation. The compulsory primary education act was enacted in 1990 in order to implement the constitutional provision for free, universal and compulsory education. The act empowered the government to undertake legal and administrative measures to implement Compulsory Primary Education (CPE) Act.
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress during the 1990s in expanding the primary education especially raising enrolment of the students and bringing certain gender parity by encouraging even the poor families to send their children to the schools. The country earned international reputation in terms of awareness about education and some other social indicators and placed itself well on track when the United Nations had in 2000 set the global targets styled Millennium Development Goals to reach 100 percent primary education by 2015.
Official MDG report valid till 2005 found the net enrolment ratio in primary education to be ‘on track’ and further stressed the need for giving attention to two more targets-proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5 and adult literacy rate of 15+ years old. The definition of literacy used in population census in 1991 and 2001 is that a person of age 7 years and above and who is able to write a letter has been considered as ‘literate’. Literate has been calculated for age seven years and above population.
However, the initial progress in school enrolment had not been substantiated by completion of the primary education due to huge drop outs. At one stage enrolment has also become a controversial issue as it was plagued by poor quality and manipulation in registration process. The increasing rates of dropout suggest that they may not attain the MDG target despite significant progress made in the first place although the official report observed that the goal of achieving universal primary education would probably be attained. According to a study conducted by 10 NGOs with the Commonwealth Education Fund, the dropout rate has increased from 33 percent to 47 percent in 2007.Moreover, official statistics show, the net enrolment of six to ten year old children declined to 93 percent in 2005 from 97 percent in 2002.Recent study also showed that some children could not read and write properly even after completion of five years of primary education. The increasing dropout rate suggests that Bangladesh is unlikely to attain a 100 percent completion of primary education by the MDG deadline of 2015.
PEDP II represents a major operational part of the government’s Education for All (EFA) and poverty reduction agenda, which are linked with the Millennium Development Goals. The primary school dropout rates in Bangladesh have always been high.
The standard of primary education is so poor that even after the five year schooling one in every three children remains ‘non-literate’ or ‘semi-literate’, According to the findings of Education Watch report of 2003-2004.According to official statistics, the percentage of pass in the completion exam (class v) was 87.79 in 2007.
According to the US Agency for International Development, a partner in the PEDP, Bangladesh’s primary school dropout rate remains unacceptably high, especially for children living in poverty and from minority families.
The 2005 monitoring report on progress towards Dakar goals released by UNESCO in November, 2004 has applied an Education Development Index to countries based on values for net primary education enrolment, adult literacy rate, gender parity indices, and survival of children to grade five in the primary school. Of the 127 countries rated, Bangladesh ranked as number 107, just behind India (106), ahead of Pakistan (123) and Nepal (110).It is projected that all of these countries will fail to meet the 2015 Dakar Framework targets unless their rate of progress accelerates substantially.
According to UNESCO Global monitoring report 2008, twenty five countries out of 129 across the world are still far from the target for achieving EFA by 2015.The report released in Paris and New York shows that Bangladesh, India, Nepal Mauritania, Morocco and Pakistan are also included in the low-achieving 25 countries.
The government claims that the second millennium development goal is on track, with impressive achievements in terms of net enrolment rate in primary education, those are 73.7 percent in 1992 to 82.7 percent in 2002 and primary education completion rates are 42.5 percent in 1992 to 80.6 percent in 2002.However, a recent World Bank study states that even with intervention mechanisms like reduction of student-teacher ratio and increased coverage of the primary education stipend program, net enrolment would not be able to cross the 90 percent mark and completion rate would remain below 85 percent by 2015.
The statistics on educational enrolment for six to ten year old is a matter of debate. A number of sources provide conflicting data. There has been some progress on enrolment, but the official claim of 82.7 percent (GoB and UN 2005) has been marred by challenges from the BBS/UNICEF (2003) estimate (80.9 percent) and nationwide survey conducted by CAMPE (2002) put it at 80 percent. According to various sources, the range of enrolment has been slightly higher for females (83-84 percent) compared to males (81-82 percent).This improvement was due to several income assistance programmes like Government’s budgetary allocation for girls’ education, Free primary education, Huge stipend programmes at the primary level, and Food for education programme.
The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh enjoins upon the Government of Bangladesh the obligation to ensure the literacy of all citizens of the country within the shortest possible time through the following provisions. The article 17 of the Bangladesh constitution mandates the state to adopt effective measures for the purpose of:
• Establish a uniform, mass oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law.
• Relating education to the needs of the society and producing properly trained and motivated citizens to serve those needs.
• Removing illiteracy within such time as may be determined by law.
So, According to the Constitution, primary education shall be the responsibility of the state. But primary education in Bangladesh has gone through several changes and development during the last few years. The issue of quality and structure remain to be a matter of great concern. The fact is that the education system in Bangladesh is not yet pro-poor and the quality and content of education do not effectively serve the goals of human development and poverty eradication. Although there is a general agreement that the number of institutions and enrolments have grown at all levels, but quality of education has deteriorated especially in institutions where the children of the poor family go.
Although the Constitution of Bangladesh stipulates that the state would take effective measures to establish a common system of universal and people oriented education, there are diverse streams of education exists in Bangladesh. These are as diverse as English medium, vernacular Secular education and religion centred Madrasah education. There are differences in curricula, syllabi, teachers’ training, infrastructure, attitude and outlook of both school authorities and guardians among the different streams in primary education. Children start their education with different systems and develop differently which significantly influence their future life.
Difference in system essentially creates and perpetuates a system of inequality not only in their attitudes and tastes but also in real economic life. Disparity and Inequality can be easily observed looking at the education system in Bangladesh. Rich can avail Private and English medium schools having their children graduated with quality education ready to be sold in the market at higher price. These are the children from the well-off families who eventually, at a certain stage, take command over politics and economy of the country. Non-Universal system of education creates and perpetuates inequality in all spheres of society.
So, Personally I think the Government of Bangladesh should take the following steps within the shortest possible time to reaffirm its strong commitment to the spirit of Millennium Declaration:
• Recognition of education as a fundamental constitutional right of the citizens of Bangladesh.
• Establish a uniform, mass oriented, scientific and universal system of education instead of several streams or systems.
• Reshape the educational policies to address the needs of the marginalized people.
• Particular attention to poor and deprived communities as well as regions to get children in the school.
• Allocation on education in general and primary education must be increased.
• Commercialization of education should be off.
• Creation of a pleasant and child-friendly environment in the school.
• Collaboration between the Government and NGOs, Civil Society and Community based Organization for achieving universal primary education.
• Teachers must be highly qualified, with at least a bachelor’s degree and with specialized training in education and must be paid well.
• Curricula must be intellectually rich and sufficiently broad to address children’s developmental needs in all domains.
• Primary education program must engage in an active partnership with parents and accommodate their needs.
• Class sizes and child-teacher ratio must be kept low.
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2. Asad, Asad-Uz-Zaman, (2008).Child Rights: Bangladesh Perspective, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Khelaghar.
3. Annual Report, (2007-’08).Dhaka, Bangladesh: UCEP-Bangladesh.
4. Mostofa, Monwar ; Ahmed, Tanim; Islam,Nazrul; Khan, Siddiqur Rahman, (2008).Alternative report on MDG status Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh: People’s Forum on MDGs (PFM) Bangladesh.
5. The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, (1996). Dhaka, Bangladesh: Government of Bangladesh.
6. World child situation, (2008).Dhaka, Bangladesh: Unicef.
Author: Programme Associate, D.Net (Development Research Network, Dhaka, Bangladesh.