Quality Primary Education is in shambles

Ensuring quality primary education is a must. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Ensuring quality primary education is a must. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Over 60 years ago, the United Nations produced a noble document—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26 of the Declaration addresses education. The document contains commitments to education for all. Education, particularly quality primary education, is the right of every citizen. That every citizen is obliged to enroll in primary education and the government should try for this education and that government must provide a national education allocating a reasonable amount of national budget. “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” It is interesting to note that the United Nations Assembly went on to ask of its member states.

The assembly wanted each member state to publicize the text. It sounded that the Declaration to be disseminated and learned ‘principally in schools and other educational institutions.’ Sixty years ago, then the aim was for the Declaration to be learned, understood, and acted upon. So too the intention of the Constitution was to realize the goals but 60 plus years on can it be said that these goals have been realized in the developing countries? What about Bangladesh? The constitution outlines empowerment –education that empowers people in faith, intelligence, and goodwill. The aim is clear enough—people that can via education do and achieve but understand their role in the society.

The Declaration prescribes that education should target the ‘full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Both documents are promoting a well-rounded and full education.

Just look at our slums and remote villages how children are not getting the education they have ‘constitutional and declared rights to. So many children live on the streets, trying to scratch out a living begging, singing, playing music, selling newspapers, or pilfering. Too often it is possible to see children who have not completed basic education and have been forced far too early into work. Children working as child laborers are not doing these things by choice but out of financial necessity and lack of opportunity to stay in school.

Bangladesh has seen growth in quality schools but relatively these are a minority and are concentrated in the cities only. Widespread access to these quality schools and access here means financial access, is not there and this means an education division. The gap between haves and have-nots seems to grow and in uncertain economic tires, the extremes of those that can afford quality education and those that cannot are only likely to be accentuated.

The number of primary schools in Bangladesh is at present 37 thousand 672 and about two crore students receive primary education from these schools where about one lakh and seventy-five lakh teachers teach. Most of these schools are situated in villages. The number of villages in our country is 80 thousand. So, it is easily seen that there is no government primary school in each village. Primary education was nationalized in 1972-73. Since then, primary schools have not been established by government initiatives. So, the rest of the villages established non-government primary schools, registered primary schools, community schools, NGO schools, Forkania, and Ebtedia madrasahs. In 1972 there was only fifteen hundred Madaras in the country but now it has stood thirty thousand. The tradition of KG schools of towns and cities has spread up to villages. In one sense, it is found that quality primary education sees various tiers and ways.

Quality primary education calls for quality and trained teachers. Now let us see a picture of teachers who teach in our primary schools. In one report it is seen that out of six lakh applicants, sixteen thousand of them can’t be teachers. For the post of assistant teachers in primary schools, those who obtained only 35% marks have been declared as successful even then, out of six lakh candidates only 66 thousand 326 passed. The written test was for 90 and viva-voce 10 marks. Those who will get 50 marks will be taken as final successful candidates. So, those who have got 35 marks cannot be taken as successful candidates in spite of getting 10 marks in the viva-voce.

The present structure of primary teachers’ salary is 3000 taka for all kinds of teachers—meritorious, non-meritorious, competent-non-competent, and experienced and inexperienced. Those who have higher degrees must have a special scale or increment. In each school, there are only five posts (highest). Moreover, these teachers are given some extra government duties which stand in the way of their teaching the students with an easy and peaceful mind. Time is ripe enough to give serious national thought towards our primary education to make a peaceful Bangladesh.

For some, quality is founded in the academic achievement of a school, for others it is the schools’ facilities and then there are parents who say that a school is a good school when the communication between schools and parents is effective and responsive. All of these aspects are important indicators for good quality primary education. Most researchers agree that learning in schools should get a holistic approach. This means that learning is not only about knowledge but also about applying that knowledge and combining knowledge and skills to understand processes and development in the world outside school. Only focusing on knowledge that means academics is selling your child short. Especially in the hi-tech world, we are living in today. Accordingly combining knowledge and skills to gain understanding are all three equally important elements of the learning triangle.

Every person learns and develops her or his talents and skills differently. It is evident that a school being a learning institute should accommodate these differences to their school population.  What is the learning approach of the schools? And how do the schools find out the specific learning needs and learning styles of our children? Children are resilient and most will adapt to their school environment cheerfully and being happy is an important ground for learning. Nevertheless, as a part, it is also important to look beyond that joy and choose a school that understands the holistic concept of learning in relation to our children’s specific learning. The American author Ralph Elison noted, “Education is all a matter of building bridges”.

We all agree that the choice of a school is important. Everyone is looking for good quality schools for the best price. Harder is it to answer the question ‘What is good quality?’ if we examine this question, everyone will come up with a different answer.

Cuba has stepped into 50 years of her revolution in January 2009 and has ensured 100 accesses to all the children to study up to class five along with the arrangement of their dress, food, educational materials from the state treasury through Cuba faces American embargo since the revolution. Comparing to her condition where we are? Are we ensuring quality primary education?

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.

Leave a Comment