Soon after forming the government at the head of a 14-party coalition in 2009, the Awami League appointed a national education commission, to advise it on completely overhauling the education sector. The NEC, under the leadership of Prof. Kabir Chowdhury, was able to come up with and submit a draft policy for the entire state. Very early on in the document, it is declared that "teachers are the main agents for providing quality education."
Furthermore, it claimed that the quality of existing teacher education was not at all satisfactory: "The existing teachers‟ training system of our country is very traditional, insufficient, certificate based, loaded with theoretical knowledge, incomplete in practical learning, based on rote learning and conventional testing.
The policy urged all the stakeholders to initiate necessary steps to upgrade the standard of teacher education. It also directed to arrange training programs for teachers both home and abroad according to their needs so that they can develop professionally. The new teachers and the in-service teachers with no training were supposed to get training.
However, the newly appointed teachers had not received any initial training. Similarly, no fundamental training was arranged for the non-public schoolteachers as recommended in the policy.
Fighting the good fight
The story up to here was narrated to us by Masum Billah. In a career spanning maybe 20 years, few, really very, very few would have studied the education sector of Bangladesh as thoroughly. Some government and non-government institutions provide teachers with training. However, the quality of teacher training is not up to the mark, and these institutions cannot meet up the demands for teacher training as they have limited capacity.
The most significant departure that we would notice in our everyday lives, under the new curriculum, is that the teacher who is currently teaching Bengali will be considered a Bengali teacher, English teacher English, mathematics teacher mathematics, physical science and life science teacher will be treated as a science teacher, social science and geography teacher will teach history social science, physical and ICT trained teacher will be treated as an ICT teacher, agriculture, business and physical teacher will be health safety teacher, religion and moral teacher will teach religion and arts and crafts teacher will teach art and culture.
Hence, to get classes in these subjects, the teachers of other subjects will find it necessary to get in the good books of the authorities concerned, Masum Billah was explaining to me. In the new curriculum, things will be reshuffled, and only the subject-based teachers will have to conduct classes. "As teachers, we do appreciate this concern and step. However, the practical phenomenon will stand as a great barrier to implementing this wise and honest decision."
Along with the reality of not having subject-based teachers at the secondary level, another man-made crisis has been developed in this sector that could have been avoided if timely, honest and professional steps would have been taken by the authorities concerned. In rural areas, the required number of teachers is not available in most schools.
What's in it for NCTB?
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board has employed several NGOs to review and develop its various tasks towards producing the outline. NGOs that don't have any experience or are quite incompetent in understanding and developing curriculum. The NGOs working for education know a lot more than government officials and have the habit of going to the remotest villages, neglected areas, and slums. They can also 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, when NGOs that don't have that capacity are employed to develop a national curriculum, it definitely talks about a different thing, and we cannot accept it.
NGOs like Plan Bangladesh and Tictaalik 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.
Leadership of NCTB
To that extent, the NCTB should be a fully autonomous institution, not dependent on the ministry for every single decision, as happens today. 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 NCTB 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.
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 NCTB must be avoided as it cannot maintain neutrality. Nepotism, and selfishness and choose a really suitable candidate for this prestigious and valuable national institution.
Strikingly different, refreshing
The new curriculum deliberately embodies a marked shift in the educational outlook of Bangladesh, no matter who it is applied to. To that extent there is a very visible embrace of a new kind of philosophy, a progressive philosophy, if you like, in education. And the first marker laid down is this: there will be no public exams before class 10 and no exams of any kind for students up to class 3.
SSC exams will take place for only five subjects.
HSC exams will take place in two phases after classes XI and XII based on the curriculum of the respective classes and the final result will be determined by combining the results of both phases.
Under the existing system, students of classes 9 and 10 take the SSC exam on 10 papers after studying a syllabus for two years. They sit for the HSC exams on 12 papers after studying a two-year syllabus in classes 11 and 12.
It is also going to introduce streams -- science, humanities and business studies -- from class 11. In the existing curriculum, students had to choose the streams in class 9. The number of subjects for students will be reduced. There will be no textbooks but study materials for the two-year pre-primary education. Students from Class 8 to Class 10 will get 10 books. Currently, these students read 12 to 14 books, according to Masum Billah.
Students would be evaluated based on regular school work until class 3. From class 4 to 8, 60 percent of the evaluation for Bangla, English, mathematics, social sciences and science will be done through school work and the rest through exams.
The new curriculum will emphasise competency over theoretical knowledge and that is why the ministry has identified 10 main competencies for students when they pass the 12th grade.
The competencies, as narrated by the minister, are - student's ability to communicate, collaborate, express themselves, honour other people's opinions, think critically, solve problems, learn languages, communication, mathematics and reasoning, science and technology, the ICT, environment and climate, and values and morality.
Asked about the new curriculum, Education Minister Dipu Moni said, "We hope that the new curriculum will help produce skilled and quality next generation. We will identify the errors and weaknesses of the new curriculum after completion of the pilot."
"We will build teachers through training so that they can understand the new curriculum and implement it properly," she said.
Education experts also hailed the philosophy underlying the new curriculum, but they emphasised proper training for teachers on the new system PRIOR to launching.
As per the government policy, the students of classes 1, 2, 6 and 7 will get new books based on the new curriculum in January 2023. The Students of classes 3, 4, 8 and 9 will get books in 2024 and the students of grade 5 and 10 will get new books in January 2025.
The ministry will provide new books to the students of grade 11 in 2026 and grade 12 in 2027. As a result, students will take part in the SSC examinations under the new curriculum from 2026 and the HSC exams from 2028.
The new curriculum from the pre-primary to the higher secondary level in the country will go through massive changes from 2023 - no annual exams up to class 3, no public examination before SSC and no separate streams of education in classes 9-10.
According to the proposed curriculum, all students from classes 6 to 10 have to read 10 common subjects while the SSC examination will be based on the syllabus of class 10 only. At present, the public exam is conducted on the basis of the syllabuses for classes 9 and 10.
Students of class 1-3 will get their result from their performances in classes. Students of classes 4 and 5 will get 40% marks for Bangla, English, Math and Science subjects on the basis of their performance in classes while another 60% will be determined by annual examinations. All marks in Physical and Mental Health, and Religion subjects will be based on class performances only.
For students of classes 6-8, 60% marks in Bangla, English, Math, Science and Social Sciences subjects will be based on class performances and another 40% will be determined on the basis of their performance in annual exams. Full marks in Life and livelihood, Science and Technology, Physical and Mental Health, Religion, Arts and Culture will be given based on class performances.
Students of classes 9 and 10 will get 50% of the marks in Bangla, English, Math, Science and Social Sciences on the basis of class performances and the remaining 50% marks will be given on the basis of annual and public exams, respectively. Their full scores in Life and livelihood, Science and Technology, Physical and Mental Health, Religion, Arts and Culture subjects will be determined on the basis of class performance.
Legislation to lock it?
Education Minister Dipu Moni has said she believes the new curriculum will make after-school private coaching 'a thing of the past'.
"We aim to fully implement the new curriculum for primary and secondary students by 2025. Hopefully, after that, students will not be required to take private lessons after school hours," she said last November, while speaking to reporters after an impromptu visit to an HSC exam centre at Dhaka's Begum Badrunnessa Government Girls' College in Dhaka.
"We have prepared the new curriculum and lesson plans in a way that students won't need private tutoring at all," the minister said in reply to a question about why the government had failed to shut private coaching centres across the country during the exam period.
"We can't stop something without offering an alternative. We will be able to eradicate the after-school private coaching practice with the implementation of new curriculum," Dipu Moni said.
"The proprietors of the coaching centres have strong objections to shutting the doors for a month because it affects their revenue stream. Still, we are doing our best to take all the necessary action," she said.
Dipu Moni also highlighted the necessity of after-school private tutoring in some "particular cases", quashing the idea that it should be.
"In some particular cases, private coaching is necessary for some struggling students. We have yet to take our education to a level where every student will get necessary support in the classroom."
One of the recommendations in the 'National Education Policy, 2010', that was presented in just the second year of the AL government's first term back in power, following the landslide in the December 2008 polls, was an education act.
The Education Ministry has already prepared the draft of the country's first education law with the provision of imposing ban on printing, publishing and marketing notebooks and guidebooks, which are known as a menace to the education system.
The proposed education law, however, allows the private coaching system and the publishing of supplementary books and education-aid books on conditions as well as approval from the authorities concerned.
The Education Ministry has already sent the draft of 'Education Bill, 2022' to the Cabinet Division for approval, said officials of the ministry. After the Cabinet's approval, the bill would be placed in the Parliament for the enactment of law. The 'Education Bill, 2022' is likely to be placed in the next Parliament session after approval from the Cabinet, said sources.
The 'National Education Policy, 2010' recommended the formulation of an education law for proper implementation of the education policy. Against this backdrop, the Education Ministry had taken the initiative to prepare a law in line with the 2010 policy and a sub-committee of the education policy implementation committee had prepared a draft law for the first time on January 26 in 2011.
Discussions and criticism on the draft education law have been going on since then over the issue of notebooks, guidebooks, supplementary books and private coaching system. Amid the discussions and criticism, the Education Ministry sent the first draft of the 'Education Act' to the Cabinet Division in December 2016. The Cabinet Division sent it back with some observations as the-then draft gave legitimacy to coaching and private tuition in the name of 'shadow education'.
According to the latest draft of education law, the printing, publishing and marketing of notebooks and guidebooks are punishable by a maximum imprisonment for three years or a maximum fine of Tk 5 lakh or both. It also states that if any teacher forces his students of his institution to purchase notebooks and guidebooks, legal action will be taken against him or her.
A law enacted in 1980 also prohibits notebooks and guidebooks up to the eighth grade. So, notebooks and guidebooks are running now in the country in the name of supplementary books or education-aid books.
The draft law states that the publication of supplementary books and education-aid books will be allowed only after approval from the authorities concerned. However, the draft says that if a teacher forces students to purchase supplementary books and education-aid books, it will be considered misconduct and disciplinary actions will be taken against him or her.
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