Bad education

Afsan Chowdhury
Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
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Before answering that question, I suppose we should ask, if we take our education system seriously.  Learning is one thing and education is another. Learning is a lifelong process and takes many routes but education is a more specific activity. It’s qualifies a person to be able to do something which will lead to livelihood by joining the labour market.


Hence, when we speak of education and the inter-related issues including questions and examination systems, we are really talking about the quality of public and private sector governance we hope to have in our national life. Good education will lead to good exams, and bad ones will lead to the mess we have now. I believe we are not against exam cheating in the practical space. The noise that is being made around this issue is like something which needs to be done to distract attention from the main issues, the continuously dropping standard of public education.


The focus of attention is not on SSC exams or those below because such students are weeded out of the system as time goes. What the education authorities look for is ensuring a ruling bureaucracy which can serve its purpose of managing the administration.  An internal report makes the following observation.


How bad is it?


“Over 40% of our high schools can’t prepare creative questions and 55 %  of teachers of primary schools do not understand critical education methods. About half of the teachers rely on guidebooks and more than 92 % of students in consequence use them to understand their lessons.”


“The minimum international standard for teacher- student ratio is 30:1 but in Bangladesh there is one teacher per around 50 students.”


The Directorate of Primary Education’s (DPE) own internal report of 2015 says,  that around 70 percent of children are unable to read or write properly or do basic maths after five years of primary school education.


A World Bank report adds that the quality and methodology of teaching is dismal. Most teachers are against innovation as they fear it may result in poor performances in examinations, hence threaten their jobs. So what matters is the passing rate.


After SSC and HSC, 35 to 40% of students have no scope of enrolling themselves in colleges or universities. No more than 20% of GPA 5 students are eligible for admission into Dhaka University.


Education v Bureaucracy


So by providing poor quality pre-University education, the Government may be trying to restrict entry into the middle class labor market. Socio-economic class mobility is severely restricted but the top part which enters the public Universities are guaranteed a good life. The low quality pre-University education ensures production of an elite class whether by self motivation or access to better exam management tools which help them make it through the system. Once they reach the University, things gets much better.


For the private commercial world, they can choose to hire from several clusters. These are foreign educated graduates, foreigners, top products from private universities or even good public universities should they decline government service though it’s rare.


The focus of education is on University graduates as they provide the future administrators so lower level education can be ignored. This is producing a long term underclass by not investing in quality pre-University education. Obviously those who can afford better quality education privately will do so but for the vast majority the opportunities to use education for employment seem to be missing.


That is why such a hoo-hah about exams leaks is very difficult to be taken seriously. The stake in the SSC and HSC exams are low and the ancillary industries that have emerged around the sector are many and provide low end employment to lakhs of people as well. In an economy where job creation is low but growth is high, wealth concentration is natural. So the upper class is not their headache which is why the middle is desperate to get an education route through to the Universities.  That is where the jobs are.


Does it really matter how that comes in Bangladesh?

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