Of late, the present government has steered the process of finalizing the National education policy – 2009. However, most of the time the trend for Education policy formulation found as manifestation of ruling political party’s ideological expression rather than covering national interest, even though education is one of the basic rights confirmed by the national constitution. After independence, six education commissions have been formed and few reports prepared, however except Education Policy-2000 no policy proposed. Unfortunately, proposed Education Policy-2000 was not implemented. Such messy condition has affected the overall education sector of the country, which has translated into ‘less quality public education’. Citizen’s faith on public education is decreasing day by day and many well-heeled people in urban areas already aligned to costly private education instead of public education. People, who do not have capacity to bear the cost of quality private education, are taking non-quality private education in some kindergartens, english-medium schools, kaumi madrashas. Currently, seven different types of education systems (general education- education covered under national curriculum board, kindergarten, english medium, madrasha, kaumi, vocational, non-formal education) are prevailing in Bangladesh.
Regrettably, some english-medium schools and kindergartens are following so called improved western cultures. On the other hand kaumi madrashas are still anchoring on century old superstitious systems. The students, who are pursuing education in these systems, are not exposed to national culture, heritage, and language. Ironically, they are growing up as an ‘unknown’ Bangladeshi. Lack of exposure to country’s culture, heritage and language make them less committed to the national interests. If this continues, the country will face a serious crisis in near future with its cultural identity. Under the circumstances, it is of utmost importance to formulate a national education policy which integrates all the prevailing education systems under one umbrella that are competent with national culture, heritage and interest without compromising the quality. Considering the aforementioned facts, currently proposed Education Policy-2009 is considered as a guideline to the journey of ‘education for all’. Nevertheless, while shading light on the policy draft some questions arise in our minds that need further clarification in case of successful implementation.
Reducing illiteracy is one of the big challenges for Bangladesh in this era of globalization. However, EFA (Education for All) Global Monitoring Report – 2009 has encountered large-scale shortfall in achieving key EFA goals by 2015 for many countries including Bangladesh. At present, the illiteracy rate for 15 years old and above is 51% (Source: Page-18, National Education Policy-2009). Yet, the current policy has set a target of 100% adult literacy by 2014. However, analyzing data of Literacy Assessment Survey- 2008, it is revealed that current adult literacy growth rate is 0.68 percentage point average. Taking into account the current literacy growth rate it is projected that another 70 years will be needed to attain 100% adult literacy, which is far away from the policy proposed year-mark (Chart 1). Therefore, substantive initiatives and target year have to be set for conversion of ‘Education for All’ slogan into action; otherwise achieving 100% adult literacy will remain dream.
Chart 1: Projected adult literacy rate
(Source: Projection made by using data of literacy assessment survey -2008)
Undoubtedly, drop-out is one of the main challenges along with other factors that practically contribute to higher rate of illiteracy. Good news is that some specific initiatives already called for reducing illiteracy. The initiatives ushered in the policy such as provision of launch for students living in rural areas, extension of scholarship for poor students are important other than initiatives like, standard toilet, play ground on school promises, new syllabus and so on.
Extension of stipend project and provision of launch for students living in rural areas are two important initiatives that might have impacts on reduction of drop-out rate, nonetheless uncertainty is evident as the data indicates that over two-thirds of the children from the poorest category were not selected to be recipients of stipend. TIB (2001) presented a worrying picture where they have showed that 27% of children from affluent households received the stipend and 46 % of the stipend holders did not receive the full amount of stipend. Such irregularity of disbursing stipend is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. A clear commitment to address and solve these problems is needed in policy; otherwise our waiting period may extend beyond projected years or more to be a 100% literate country.
Another important challenge that needs further clarification is the extension of primary education up to class VIII, incorporating a final examination at the end of class V and public examination at the end of class VIII guided by an indifferent question covering the whole country. At present, nine education boards are working for carrying public examinations at secondary (class VI-X) and higher secondary (class XI-XII) levels, out of their other concerned responsibilities including the effort to reorganize and monitor educational institutes established by private initiatives (Source: Intermediate and Secondary Education Boards, Bangladesh, accessed on September 10, 2009). The number of all students, who participate yearly at two public examinations of secondary and higher secondary level are approximate 950,000 and 750,000 respectively. On the other hand, 20,00,000 students, who are studying at 78,363 primary schools of different kinds, are expected to participate at the final examination of class V following indifferent questions for the first time. Of whom, 12,00,000 students are expected to participate at the public examination of class VIII if we consider 40% drop-out rate at secondary level education as pointed in the Page-14, National Education Policy, 2009 (If primary education extended up to class VIII then drop-out rate will be lessen as the same student will study continuously without changing institution. Therefore number of participants in the Class VIII public exam will be more than the statistics presented here). The findings, therefore, raise questions on existing capacity of the education boards. The legitimate question is that how to accommodate such 12, 00,000 students under current facility. Unfortunately, no clear guideline has been provided in the proposed policy to accommodate these additional students; even no instruction has been provided whether they will be placed under currently primary education supervising authority- Primary and Mass Education Division of Ministry of Primary and Mass Education- or another new board will be launched to supervise them.
The policy has made a provision of incorporating local government authorities and local civil society committees for making necessary arrangements for public examinations. Obviously, the inclusion of local government and participation of local people have relevancy with significance in this regard, but we should not forget that local government is assigned to perform a number of tasks as its own official duty ( even though dispute appears sometimes on its expected performance). Therefore, there is a potential risk of mismatch between other government authorities and education department in case of performing such tasks.
Problem also may arise from allocating teachers for newly proposed primary education extension. The teachers who are currently teaching in primary schools are mostly trained and educated to teach up to class V. If the primary education extends to class VIII then there is a need for extra teachers. Integration of next three classes (Class VI, VII, VIII) with existing level of primary education and associated severe dearth of competent teachers for operation of new education policy in rural areas and madrasa pose big challenge towards its implementation. Factually, existing teachers (many female teachers are only SSC passed as per government recruitment policy and other teachers are HSC passed) are not academically qualified enough to teach up to class VIII. Therefore, the government may force the existing teachers to go for retirement and recruit new qualified teachers those who are academically and professionally competent to teach up to class VIII or recruit additional teachers added to the existing teachers. However, both the options may invoke new problems. If government goes for forced retirement of existing teachers then 350,000 (currently approximate 350,000 teachers are working in government primary schools) teachers will be unemployed and it will create lots of social and economic tensions, no doubt. Alternatively, new recruitment of teachers along with existing teachers will create problem in organizational hierarchy. New teachers, who will be recruited to teach students above class V may perceive themselves superior than existing teachers; whereas existing teachers will perceive themselves senior to the new teachers. Therefore, a superiority complexity may arise, which will create anarchy in the whole systems and will obstruct government’s agenda of developing quality of education.
If we try to implement newly proposed eight-year primary education from the beginning of the year 2011 (as stated in the policy), the situation may come up with many difficulties. The whole arrangement including infrastructures for reforming the existing system would take time; that might take two years or more. Indeed, if primary education is limited up to class VIII by a public examination and secondary public examination at class XII then another complexity may evolve. The students who are now at class IX and X are expected to be qualified on public exam at class X; thus it require another two years time. It is also mention worthy that significant portion of the students (Some 308136 examinees failed this year at SSC examination, 2009, source: May 27, 2009, The Daily Star) disqualify the examination. Thus, next three years (existing education system allows a student to be appeared on SSC examination for four times in total) may be required for rearrangement of public examination for disqualified students. As a result, total seven years might be required in order to run the new system of primary education up to VIII class completely.
Educationist Abdus Sattar Molla, on the status of primary education of different countries, pointed out that of the 182 countries the highest number (87) has primary education up to sixth grade. Moreover, all the developed countries of Asia such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Israel have primary education up to sixth grade. (Billah, 2009). Accordingly, the fixation of limit to primary education requires more attention and reconsideration.
Moreover, the time line has been set from 2009-10 to 2017-18 for implementing the policy, which need careful consideration as previous experiences indicate that the policy made by one government in Bangladesh changed readily when another government comes to power next time.
The initiative of creating new rooms with existing infrastructure in high school for launching class XI and XII and in college for launching class IX and X has been proposed in the finally drafted policy in order to extend primary education up to class VIII (NEP, Page-22). Nevertheless, table-1, annex-5 of the education policy illustrates the expenses of adjusting new rooms only in primary and secondary level. This inconsistency should be reviewed further to avoid complexity in structural adjustment.
Bangladesh is a signatory to Dakar framework (World leaders and a number of organizations related to development of education signed a declaration in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal with a commitment to fulfill 6 goals for implementing education for all; source: Titumir and Hossain 2004) along with universal declaration of human rights, Jomtien conference on education for all, convention on the rights of children. These international conventions and covenants have significant influence to formulate a time-befitting education policy. In case of financing for implementation of the national education policy-2009, the commitment to Dakar framework has been considered as momentous. Even though, the proposed assumption for increasing education budget to 6.0% or 4.5% of GDP in the financial year 2017-18 is very time demanding, but other sectors such as health, agriculture, infrastructure development etc. vitally sought for increasing funds as the demand is increasing day after day with the pace of increasing population.
To face the challenges of 21st century a comprehensive and updated education policy is must. Recently proposed Education policy is a positive attempt towards modernization of education system despite some shortcomings that should be clarified before finalizing it. The major challenges would be ensuring sound management of primary education up to VIII. One of the fundamental requirements that might be considered is creating of additional education boards for managing newly proposed extended primary education. The target of making all adults literate by 2014 should be redefined in line with reality. The aim of reform initiatives should target reducing illiteracy in a pragmatic way. Otherwise, the policy will remain as only prescribed documents like earlier ones, sounds rhetoric, rather implemented. Above all, we, the whole nation, want to see successful implementation of policy in real terms breaking the hard shell of bureaucratic and political disparities.
1. Billah, M. M. 2009. Education Policy: A Critical Review. https://bdeduarticle.com/education-policy/37-uncatagorized/103-education-policy-a-critical-review
2. GOB, 2009. National Education Policy, (Draft)
3. Intermediate and secondary education boards, Bangladesh, accessed on September 10, 2009. Online: http://www.educationboard.gov.bd/
4. Literacy Assessment Survey, 2008.
5. The Daily Star, May 27, 2009
6. Titumir, R. A. M., and Hossain, J. 2004. Encountering exclusion: primary education policy watch, Unnayan Onneshan- The Innovators, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
7. Transparency International Bangladesh. 2001. Corruption in Primary Education: A Report Card Survey.
8. UNESCO, 2009. EFA Global Monitoring Report.
Author: Researcher, Unnayan Onneshan- The Innovators, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]