Curriculum Textbook

What is Happening in National Curriculum and Textbook Board?

National Curriculum and Textbook Board should be a fully autonomous institution. Image source: Wikimedia
National Curriculum and Textbook Board should be a fully autonomous institution. Image source: Wikimedia
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

The educational arena of the country is currently experiencing the development and implementation process of a new curriculum by National Curriculum and Textbook Board from pre-primary to higher secondary level with the introduction of handing over new books based on this new curriculum to the students of grades one and two, and six and seven from the year 2023. 

With this end in view, its piloting will take place in 100 primary and 100 secondary schools, respectively. However, ignoring the previous plan and declaration, it is heard that not all 200 primary and secondary schools will go under piloting. This number maybe 100 to 120.

Developing a curriculum means a big task, a gigantic task indeed, that we hardly realize. We seem to misunderstand its importance, keeping it limited to transferring teachers from government institutions to National Curriculum and Textbook Board, publishing books, and distributing them among students.  

The ongoing curriculum was developed in 2012 and its revisions were supposed to start in 2017 but were not done. Most government college teachers, along with a very small number of government school teachers, are posted in National Curriculum and Textbook Board to develop and review the curriculum along with other responsibilities. However, it cannot be said plainly that only government teachers are able to develop curriculums even though they hold the designation of “expert” after getting transferred to NCTB. 

Many of them get transferred on recommendation, by maintaining a powerful lobby or by other means. I was invited to a workshop at National Curriculum and Textbook Board several years back, where an additional secretary from the ministry commented, “You all have become experts after coming to the National Curriculum and Textbook Board and occupying a chair individually. How you have come here is known to all concerned.

If I ask you whether you have written even an easy essay by yourself in your teaching life, I am sure none of you has done it. I see NCTB has become garbage”. I noticed that nobody protested it or gave any answer. That means they accepted the fact, which is really a fact. 

A plan was made that SESIP would review the curriculum in 2017. The delay in releasing the necessary funds to do it led to its further delay. It was followed by another decision that it would be reviewed by “SEDP” and so SESIP left the work without touching it. In 2019, National Curriculum and Textbook Board took another decision that it would get the curriculum reviewed by itself, meaning that neither SESIP nor SEDP would do it.

This necessarily sparks questions such as: does National Curriculum and Textbook Board have the required amount of manpower? Does it have real experts to do that job? The existing NCTB officials have to remain busy with inviting tenders, searching for publishers, printing books and distributing them. Do they have time or interest in reviewing the curriculum or developing a curriculum? It is said that books are free, but people need to pay money to get books, particularly in non-government schools, which see the highest number of students and teachers who have to get books in exchange for money from the local officials concerned. 

The organizations that can take the National Curriculum and Textbook Board officials abroad get benefits from the NCTB in various ways. This kind of proof has been published by some newspapers, and these organizations or NGOs get the opportunity to work for the National Curriculum and Textbook Board in developing and revising curricula even though they don’t have this type of experience. 

National Curriculum and Textbook Board officials defend this point by saying that university teachers are involved in developing the curriculum, not NGOs only. Whenever we hear the names of university teachers, is there any logic to becoming so restless? It is not unknown to us how most university teachers are employed. How many of them actively engage in politics and other games after getting a job, ignoring studies and research? 

Many of them don’t even have a clear idea about the system of education in Bangladesh. I want to cite here one example that I experienced just several months back. One teacher from DU, who is conducting research or implementing a project on primary education, was asking me several questions that really astonished me. 

The following questions were posed: i) Is there a government primary school in Bangladesh?(ii) Primary education in Bangladesh is up to grade 8, isn’t it? When I said “no”, I got the reply ‘are you sure of it? (iii) Do primary school teachers receive MPO? When a university teacher lacks a clear understanding of primary or secondary education in Bangladesh, how can they be entrusted with conducting research and making recommendations? Of course, all teachers don’t belong to this group. However, those who know well about the education system of Bangladesh know that their numbers are very small. 

National Curriculum and Textbook Board has employed several NGOs to review and develop curriculum that has been highlighted by the media in such a way that NGOs don’t have any experience or are quite incompetent in understanding and developing curriculum. Actually, the NGOs working for education know a lot more than government officials as they have the potential, interest, and habit of going to the remotest villages, neglected areas, and slums, and can reach out to the hearts of poor and common people, knowing the context and reality that are necessary to develop the curriculum of a state. 

Such depth of knowledge in this area cannot be held by government officials from any department. However, all the NGOs don’t have that capacity, and all the NGOs don’t work in the education sector either in that capacity. When these kinds of NGOs are employed to develop a national curriculum, it definitely talks about a different thing, and we cannot accept it.  

NGOs like Plan Bangladesh and Tictalik don’t have any experience in writing or reviewing national curriculums. BRAC Education Models such as the “cohort model” and the “excelared model” are known at home and abroad, and the UNO has requested BRAC to replicate these models in some Asian and African countries, and BRAC has successfully been implementing these models in those countries. Still, I will say that the national curriculum should not be made as per the prescriptions of NGOs. When NGOs like Tiktalik get such kinds of opportunities that means the curriculum will have to see miserable consequences. 

National Curriculum and Textbook Board should be a fully autonomous institution, so it need not depend on the ministry for every single decision, as it happens today. However, the chairman of NCTB should be chosen from gigantic national figures in the field of education, on whose trust the nation can rely. A “national search committee” can find such a figure for the position of NCTB Chairman.  

We must remember that the position of National Curriculum and Textbook Board Chairman is quite different from the heads of other institutions that are posted for political consideration and posted for three or four years. It should be a minimum of eight to ten years to see the full circle of introducing and implementing a curriculum. Examples can be given that Dr. Zafor Iqbal, Abdullah Abu Sayeed, and Professor Manjurul Islam, like personalities and educationists, should be the chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board. 

We all know that developing such a personality is a difficult task. Still, society, institutions, and the nation as a whole should take the initiative to produce such educationalists in the country. We can rely on the stature of such individuals to develop a national curriculum under their direct supervision. The current tradition of selecting the chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board must be avoided as it cannot maintain neutrality, nepotism, and selfishness and choose a really suitable candidate for this prestigious and valuable national institution. 

We don’t want the NCTB to be dominated by the ministry. However, if there is no control by the ministry over the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, the anomalies that have been cited in the above paragraphs will happen. More can be mentioned. We have come to learn that one biology teacher has been given the responsibility to coordinate English curriculum development. 

We don’t want that type of autonomy either. The famous private university and English medium teachers have been included in the curriculum writing panel, leaving the trained SESIP officials. We know that English medium education is more creative and its teachers also, but their selection has not been made on the basis of any sound policy and suitable teachers have not been invited to review and write a curriculum that calls for decision makers’ judicious consideration and attention. 

Finally, I want to say that NCTB chairman should not be considered just like other usual jobs, as the prime responsibility of NCTB is to develop a national curriculum to guide the future generation towards the right direction and build up the future leaders. So, the position of chairman of NCTB and its other important positions must be held by educationists of that stature.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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