There is no denying the fact that Bangladesh has achieved significant progress in primary education in terms of enrolment of the students and free distribution of books across the country. Nevertheless, the present scenario of primary education is not up to our expectation. If it comes to ensuring quality basic education for all at primary level, we are still lagging behind. Here I would like to focus on some specific issues which need to be addressed by the government immediately if we really want to make quality primary education accessible to all and ensure retention of children at schools throughout the country.
Discriminatory education system at primary level:
The existing system creates discrimination among the students reading at primary schools although ensuring uniform primary education is our constitutional pledge. Article 17 of our constitution clearly declares that the state should ensure “uniform, mass-oriented and universal” system of education. But have we been able to ensure uniform education for all? We all know that we have various types of education at primary level such as Bangla medium, English version, English medium, kindergarten, and Madrasa, and there is no uniformity among the existing systems. Students who read in Bangla medium school get such education which hardly matches education students get from Madrasa. Even the curriculum of English version at primary level is different from that of Kindergarten or Bangla medium. Since English medium education follows international curriculum like Edexcel or Cambridge, it has nothing to do with the national curriculum. But a few books on “Bangla Language, History and Culture” should be included in the English medium curriculum for junior section. It seems that the whole system is very confusing, and our students reading in primary schools do not get uniform and culture-specific education which will help develop their human quality, mental faculty and intellectual skill. But unfortunately, the existing education system makes some of them alienated and frustrated. Consequently, a few of English medium students - we have observed over the years - have been exposed to militancy.
Exorbitant tuition fees at non-government schools:
Imposing high tuition fees on students has recently been a burning issue. Many schools, especially located in Dhaka city or other metropolitan cities, hiked the tuition fees including admission by 11-100% from this January (source: The Prothom Alo dated on 29 January 2016). The unusual hike made the guardians/parents take to the streets. Many guardians from Dhaka and Chittagong protested this decision and demanded the withdrawal of excessive fees. Later, the Ministry of Education issued an order asking the school authorities to limit this hike to not more than 25% of the existing tuition fees. But we doubt whether the school authorities are complying with this order or not. What we have known is that things have not changed so far. If this chaos goes on at primary level, the academic environment will be disrupted, and the gap between the school authorities and the parents will be further widening.
Excessive burden of books:
This is a very common phenomenon that students, especially reading at non-government primary schools, are to carry backpacks laden with plenty of books. According to the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), school authorities cannot force the students to buy any extra books which are not approved by the NCTB. But unfortunately, the government does not have any control over the illegal practice, and there is no precedence that the government could take any action against any school violating the NCTB rule. Here my question is—are the school authorities more powerful than the government? How can they keep defying the government rule which was made in 1983? Isn’t it pertinent to ask this question to the Ministry of Education? We know that recently the apex court of India has given a bold directive as to the highest weight of backpack a primary school-going student can carry. I wonder why we, the parents, keep silent in this regard. The whole nation seems to be very indifferent to this issue. Here I would like to refer to a report containing a chart of extra books imposed by some school authorities in Dhaka city. The chart is given below: (Source: The Daily Prothom Alo dated on 27 January 2016)
I have also noticed that most of the English (both Language and Literature) texts are not culture-specific, and some of them are substandard. Besides, some texts - written by Indian authors – don’t help the Bangladeshi students relate to their own history, culture and heritage.
Lack of trained teachers:
There is a dearth of trained teachers at primary level. Although the government has taken some initiatives in this regard, not all the teachers have come under the training program. At present, problem also lies in English version because the teachers who teach the English version students do not get specific (subject-wise) training from the Directorate of Primary Education. The government seems not to give proper attention to this problem.
Ineffective creative method:
According to a recent survey conducted by Research for Advancement of Complete Education (RACE), more than half of 100 primary school teachers, who took part in a survey, are still unclear about creative education method introduced about 5 years back. Even more alarming is that about half of the teachers (47%) surveyed rely on guidebooks to prepare lessons while 92% students take the help of guidebooks to understand their lessons (Source: The Daily Star dated on 26 January 2016). The findings of the report, titled “Ambiguity in understanding among teachers and students render creative method ineffectiveness—a study on primary school in Bangladesh”, also unveil that our students are failing to comprehend what they are being taught in school. Besides, the money-making tendency of the school, the non-creative methods like rote learning and the dependence on guidebooks are very detrimental to the intellectual development of students.
Corruption and coaching business:
Corruption in education sector is a menace to ensuring quality education at primary level. Some of the school management committees resort to money-making motives. Some teachers do not teach properly in classrooms, and they force the students to come to their coaching centers. We, the parents, seem to be very keen to send our children to those centers. We also think that achieving GPA 5 is the main motto of education. The obligation of sitting the public exams—PEC and JSC—is the root cause of the mushroom growth of coaching centers. We wonder why our students at their tender age are being forced to sit for the PEC exam which is redundant!
Poor pay for the teachers:
This is very unfortunate that the primary school teachers are ill-paid. Even they do not get proper respect from the society. Because teachers do not get good salary, most of them are compelled to depend on coaching business. Since the independence of Bangladesh, no government took any positive initiative to offer decent remuneration to the primary school teachers who are the real nation-builders. And due to the poor pay, meritorious students do not come to this profession. This is also a major impediment to ensuring quality basic education for all.
In conclusion, I would like to put forward some recommendations which could help the policy makers or the government to work on formulating a uniform curriculum for all at primary level.
a. The government should take proper steps for approving the “Right to Education” law as per the commitment of the Education Policy 2010.
b. The government should revamp the whole education system to ensure uniform quality education for all up to class-Eight as per the Education Policy 2010.
c. The government should make a strict guideline for the schools to follow the approved chart of tuition fees.
d. The government should make a comprehensive school mapping to ensure equal access to primary education for all.
e. The government needs to take effective initiatives to train the teachers for Bangla medium, English version and Madrasa.
f. The government should enact a tougher law to stop the schools from imposing extra books (burden) on the students at primary level.
g. The government should make sure the creative education methods are properly implemented and practised at schools.
h. The government needs to enact a strict law to stop the coaching businesses.
i. The government needs to revise the formation of school management committees which will necessarily comprise some educationists (from all unions, upazilas, districts, divisions and metropolitan cities) as chairpersons of the governing bodies.
j. The government should immediately form an independent pay commission for the teachers at all levels.
k. The government should ensure quality primary education which must align with 1990 Education Act and National Education Policy 2010.
l. The government needs to take strong action against the corrupt individuals who are involved in question leakage at all levels.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy, Associate Professor, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.