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Problems and Prospects of EFA in Bangladesh

EFA in Bangladesh; Image source: UNESCO

EFA in Bangladesh; Image source: UNESCO

FATIMA KHAN BASU and ASAD-UZ-ZAMAN ASAD wrote about EFA in Bangladesh

1. Background

1.1. History of EFA: Education for All (EFA) is an international commitment that called for all children to be able to complete primary school. EFA was subsequently adopted as the MDG for achieving universal primary education. At the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) in Jomtien, Thailand (March 1990), delegates from 155 countries and representatives of 160 organizations affirmed their collective commitment to education as a human right and pledged to address the basic learning needs of all by the end of the decade. Targets and strategies for providing universal access and improving equity and learning were enshrined in the Jomtien Framework for Action for Meeting the Basic Learning Needs. However, by the year 2000 assessments showed that the goals set in Jomtien had not been achieved. Thus at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal (April 2000), 1,100 participants from 164 countries reaffirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015. The framework placed the main responsibility for achieving the EFA goals on Member States, which were encouraged and supported in their development of national plans of action (UNESCO, 2010).

1.2. History of EFA in Bangladesh: 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). 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 (Asad, 2009).

The Bangladesh Government’s National Plan of Action for Education for All (EFA) subscribed to all the EFA goals of making education compulsory, accessible and inclusive by 2015. Start of formal primary education in the Bangladesh region dates back to 1854 and literacy activities at individual initiatives to 1918. At liberation in December 1971, the literacy rate in the country was only 16.8 percent. Bangladesh has since made remarkable advances in championing the causes of education and making it a serious public purpose. Historically, education had been the exclusive preserve of the elite and, mostly the male. As time passed, female education was encouraged by allowing co-education as well as by setting up some separate institutions for girls. However, progress and participation in education remained limited. It fell on the Government of Bangladesh, after independence, to lay the foundations of an extensive education system. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, adopted in 1972, acknowledged education as a basic right of the people and enjoined on the State to ensure the provision of universal and compulsory free primary education to all children, relating education to the needs of the society and removing illiteracy. The Government nationalized and took over 36,165 primary schools in 1973 and regularized it under the Primary Education (Taking Over) Act of 1974, and declared 157,724 primary school teachers as government employees. Primary education was free and made compulsory under the Primary Education (Compulsory) Act 1990, implemented initially in 68 upazillas (sub-districts) in 1992 and extended to the rest of the country from 1993.

The first National Education Commission, headed by the eminent scientist and scholar Dr. Kudrat-e-Khuda, made substantive and forward-looking recommendations on pre-primary and primary education, among others. To emphasize the importance of primary education the government separated it from the Directorate of Public Instruction and set up the Directorate of Primary Education in 1980.  The government took up two Universal Primary Education (UPE) projects in 1981 on limited scale, one with donor support and the other with government’s own funds. The projects introduced some measures to strengthen field level supervision with appointment of Assistant Thana (now Upazilla) Education Officers (AUEOs), appointment of female teachers with relaxed qualifications, etc. At the same time, the government also started a massive Mass Education program to impart literacy to illiterates. Such measures led to an increase of literacy rate to 24.8 percent by 1991 (MoPME, 2010).

2. Goals of EFA

The six global EFA goals have been identified in the Dakar Framework for Action. They are as follows:

* Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
* Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and compete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
* Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programs;
* Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
* Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girl’s full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
* Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

3. Problems and Prospects of EFA in Bangladesh

3.1. Progress Report on EFA in Bangladesh: Bangladesh’s rank was 11th in terms of complete basic education, 5th in terms of state action for EFA programs, 6th in terms of quality inputs, 10th in terms of gender equity and 10th in terms of overall equity among the 14 developing countries from Asia Pacific. Bangladesh ranked 105th position in Education Development Index (EDI, Value of 0.663) out of 121 countries. Actual EDI value decreased from 0.692 in 2005 to 0.663 in 2006, indicating sliding back in EDI during last one year. It ranked 83rd in total primary NER (Net Enrollment Rate), 116th in adult literacy, 102nd in Gender related EFA index and 116th in survival rate to grade V. It projected Bangladesh will fail to achieve Dakar Framework target (UNESCO, EFA Monitoring Report, 2006).

3.2. PRSP and EFA Challenges for the Coming Decade: Bangladesh formulated an overarching national development strategy in 2005 under the title Unlocking the Potential with the twin goals of accelerated poverty reduction and attainment of MDGs. Popularly referred to as the PRS it weaves together various sectoral strategies into a coordinated whole so as to maximize overall social gains including accelerated poverty reduction and achievement of MDGs.  Commensurate with the Dakar Framework for Action, PRSP has sought to contextualize EFA goals for Bangladesh in the coming decade. It is clear that access has been the defining pre-occupation of the past decade and a half and this has borne fruit as exemplified by enrolment and gender parity statistics and the entry of Bangladesh in UNDP’s medium human development league of countries. The success has not only been on the supply side. The demand side too has been as responsive; even the poorest families have come to value education and give high priority to the basic education of their children, boys and girls alike. It is not the case that the access goal has been won on all fronts. Specific segments of the population, particularly within the poor, ethnic groups and in remote locations, still have to struggle for access. Increasingly however, research on outcome indicators is driving home the point that access achievements are not necessarily translating into commensurate quality achievements. A paradigm shift towards a pre-occupation with quality while retaining the focus on equity has thus become an urgent necessity. In a way, such a realization has already been spreading but the sense of strategic urgency remains to be galvanized. The PRSP also underscores the point that the development of the quality agenda at primary, secondary and vocational levels is not driven by top-down expert approaches alone but take its cue equally from an analytically sound reading of the ground realities of school, community and administrative environments in which they are situated.

3.3. Preparation of NPA II: Recognizing the strategic challenges of realizing EFA goals, Government of Bangladesh has adopted a program approach and initiated the Second Primary Education Development Program (PEDP II), 2003-2009.  This sector-wide program is fully geared to attaining and improving the quality in all facets of primary education. The Government has also developed through an extensive participatory process a NFE (Non-Formal Education) Policy Framework to guide and ensure quality in all NFE activities. To bring all components within a common framework, Government also initiated an extensive participatory and professional process to review the achievements of the first National Plan of Action (NPA I) and prepare a new EFA national plan of action or NPA II for the coming decade. An EFA Technical Committee and a representative EFA Forum provided the institutional architecture to oversee and complete the formulation of this action plan (MoPME, 2010).

While the country made considerable progress in the last decade, primary education still faces a number of serious challenges. Bangladesh is unlikely to achieve universal primary enrollment and completion by 2015, if the current trends in access and completion do not improve. Progress has been slower than what would be required to achieve universal access and completion as well improved school quality.

3.4. Major Barriers of EFA in Bangladesh: Despite efforts to achieve EFA goals, progress rates remain seriously short of those needed to reach the targets identified by 2015. The common barriers to attain EFA goals are from both supply side and demand side.

-> From the demand side, poverty is the major hindrance in sending children to school. The majority of these ‘excluded children’ are either living in isolated rural communities, disaster prone areas and are, in all likelihood, homeless, child laborer or from marginalized ethnic minorities, or from urban slums or specially challenged children.

* First, these families cannot afford to pay school tuition.  Major expenditure items incurred by families are private tuition, pen and paper, tiffin, dress, evening lighting, cost of books, examination fees, tuition, and transport cost. Yet hidden costs can reach up to BDT 1, 000 per year. At the same time, 21% percent of the households with a monthly income under BDT 1, 250 can hardly spend anything on education. Household expenditures amount to over 60% of public expenditure per student in primary education.
* Second, even if school if ‘free’ and does not have direct costs associated with it, families may risk losing the children’s income by sending children to school.
* Third, often, illiterate parents lack the motivation to send their children to school (Shahjahan & others, 2006).

According to BBS, about 22.9% of the country’s total child workers are forced into different hazardous jobs as they cannot find any better form of employment and go into the vocation given the financial hardship of their families and having to earn for the family. Around 66.8% of child workers are sent to these jobs by their parents. Almost 45% child workers could not attend school because they could not afford educational expenses and 19.5% of them could not go to school due to work. Among the total non school going child workers, 9.8% reported that their parents did not send them to school (BBS, 2006).

Distance to schools is claimed as the most significant barrier to children’s (of Chittagong, haor/ wetland, coastal area, extreme north of Bangladesh) education, despite a national policy, which aims to provide a primary school within two kilometers of each child. Till date, the state has exerted little effort to expand access for geographically, ethnically and socially marginalized groups including the ‘char’-inhabitants, tribal minorities and urban slum children.

* On supply side, the government has difficulty in meeting its commitments for capacity or quality, including school infrastructure, number of teachers and access, mostly due to budget constraints. The government has increased its gross funding for education, yet education expenditure in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in South Asia and lowest among the developing countries. Moreover, public expenditure in primary education shows a downward trend. Total public expenditure in primary education as percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell steadily from 1.09% in 1993/ 94 to approximately 0.81% in 2003/ 04. In 2003/ 04, total expenditure in primary education and GDP was BDT 27, 608.40 and BDT 13, 541.23 million respectively (Hossain, 2006).

Towards achieving the target of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015, GoB has commenced on the PEDP-II (Primary Education Development Program-Phase II) from July 2003 to 2009 Fiscal Years. The key objectives of the PEDP-II are to increase primary education access, participation and completion in accordance with government’s National Education Policy (NEP) 2000, Education for All (EFA) process and other relevant policy commitments. Under the PEDP-II, Government primary schools, Registered Non-Government Primary Schools and Community schools are given a basic package of teaching aids, core and supplementary reading and learning materials, teacher training and a ‘supply of teachers’ to fill temporary vacancies. And even, the PEDP-II points to the fact that at the end of the project in 2009, the net enrollment ratio will be 88%, completion rate for class five will be 80% and acceptable levels of literacy and numeracy will be only 50%. This means that education for all is still a far away dream as still 1.8 million children will be out of school, and even the PEDP-II is far behind fulfilling its targets (Shahjahan & others, 2006).

4. Policy Recommendations

Policy Recommendations for Bangladesh in order to reach the unreached, marginalized and underserved in Education-

* Access to Schooling for the Disadvantaged Groups: A more progressive redistribution of government primary education spending to the children of poorest and disadvantaged groups and a better targeting of the primary stipend program to the poorest students, are likely to help Bangladesh achieve its EFA targets.
* Motivate community and parents towards education: Not only enhance the activity of SMC (School Management Committee) also take various attempts to ensure the more active participation of community people and parents in school activities.
* Quality of Primary Schooling: Improving the overall quality of schooling is a pressing task in order to substantially raise enrollment and help more children complete primary school with the appropriate skills in literacy and numeracy.
* Improve Teacher Quality and Incentives: Hiring local teachers and providing opportunities for training and professional career growth is critical. Further, building an internal incentive structure within the school system to reward performing teachers is likely to be sustainable.
* Learner-centered learning process: Ensure learner-centered teaching-learning processes for the students.
* Curriculum and Textbooks: The concept of ‘life skills education’ linked to national priorities for sustainable development and lifelong learning should be incorporated into the national curriculum. Improving the quality of textbooks and transparency in the distribution of textbooks is likely to help the learning environment.
* Improve Facilities: Despite decades of infrastructure development, a large number of classrooms and local administrative facilities need to be repaired and/ or renovated.
* Metropolitan Areas: The pervasive poverty in metropolitan areas and the lack of access to education for many children, including those from indigenous groups, signal the pressing need to tailor the stipend program to the most needy and meritorious students.
* Decentralize the School System: Developing information campaigns on the delivery of services and resources from the central government to local schools to empower local communities would be instrumental in improving the quality of schooling and learning outcomes.
* Improving Governance in the Bangladesh Education System: Transparency teacher recruitment, teacher training and deployment procedures would also be crucial in improving the overall governance of the education system.


[1]. Asad, A. [2009]. Bangladesh Education: Practices and Challenges. Khulna, Bangladesh: Humanity Watch.
[2]. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). [2006]. Baseline Survey for Determining Hazardous Child Labour Sectors in Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
[3]. Hossain, J. [2006]. Bangladesh Report Status of Education MDG Implementation, Presented at the workshop on ICTs for Universalizing Education, Agra, India on January 23-24: One World South Asia.
[4]. Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME), Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. (2010). Bangladesh in the EFA Context. [Online]. Available from [Retrieved November, 05, 2010].
[5]. Shahjahan, M. & others (Ed), [2006]. Missing Links: Corporate Social Responsibility and Basic Education in Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Advancing Public Interest Trust (APIT).

Writer(s): Fatima Khan Basu, Hospital Counselor, Apollo Hospitals, Dhaka, Bangladesh; M.Phil Researcher, Educational Psychology, University of Dhaka. Email:

Asad-Uz-Zaman Asad, Capacity Development Assistant, Access to Information (a2i) Programme, United Nations Development Programme ( UNDP),  Bangladesh; M.Phil Researcher, e-Learning, University of Dhaka. Email:

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