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Friday, October 23, 2009

[ALOCHONA] Some questions about draft education policy

The proposed education policy draft, despite its apparently noble intentions, has quite a few flaws and gaps that must be addressed before finalising the document, write Mohammed Abdul Baten and Md Musfikur Rahman

OF LATE, the present government has started the process of finalising the national education policy 2009. However, most of the time, the trend for education policy formulation is found as a manifestation of the ruling political party's ideological expression rather than coverage of national interest, even though education is one of the basic rights confirmed by the constitution. Since independence, six education commissions have been formed and few reports prepared; however, except for the education policy 2000 none was proposed.


Unfortunately, the proposed education policy 2000 was not implemented. Such a messy condition has affected the education sector, which has translated into a 'low quality public education'. Citizen's faith in public education is decreasing day by day and many well-heeled people in urban areas have already aligned themselves to costly private education instead of public education. People who do not have the capacity to bear the cost of quality private education are taking non-quality private education in some kindergartens, English-medium schools and qoumi madrassahs. Currently, seven different types of education systems (general education under national curriculum board, kindergarten, English medium, madrassahs, qoumi, vocational, non-formal education) are prevailing in Bangladesh.

   Some English-medium schools and kindergartens are following so-called improved western cultures. On the other hand, qoumi madrassahs are still anchoring on century-old systems that neither enlighten students appropriately nor prepare them with the required instruction of mathematics and English, needed to secure gainful employment. The students pursuing education in these systems are not exposed to national culture, heritage, and language. Ironically, they are growing up as an 'unknown' Bangladeshi. Lack of exposure to country's culture, heritage and language make them less committed to the national cause. If this continues, the country will face a serious crisis in near future with its cultural identity.


 Under the circumstances, it is of utmost importance to formulate a national education policy which integrates all the prevailing education systems under one umbrella in line with national culture, heritage and interest without compromising the quality. Considering the aforementioned facts, the currently proposed education policy 2009 is considered a guideline to the journey of 'education for all'. Nevertheless, while shedding light on the policy draft some questions arise in our minds that need further clarification in case of successful implementation.

   Reducing illiteracy is one of the big challenges for Bangladesh in this era of globalisation. However, EFA (Education for All) Global Monitoring Report 2009 has encountered large-scale shortfall in achieving key EFA goals by 2015 for many countries including Bangladesh. At present, the illiteracy rate for 15-year-olds and above is 51 per cent (Page-18, National Education Policy 2009). Yet, the current policy has set a target of 100 per cent adult literacy by 2014. However, analysing the data of Literacy Assessment Survey 2008, it is revealed that current adult literacy growth rate is 0.68 percentage point average. Taking into account the current literacy growth, rate it is projected that another 70 years will be needed to attain 100 per cent adult literacy, which is far away from the policy proposed year-mark. Therefore, substantive initiatives and target year have to be set for conversion of 'Education for All' slogan into action; otherwise achieving 100 per cent adult literacy will remain dream.

   Undoubtedly, drop-out is one of the main challenges along with other factors that contribute to higher rate of illiteracy. Good news is that some specific initiatives have already called for reducing illiteracy. The initiatives like school lunch in rural areas, extension of scholarship for poor students are important besides those to ensure standard toilets, playground on school promises, new syllabus and so on.

   But there is still uncertainty as the data indicates that over two-thirds of the children from the poorest category were not selected as recipients of stipend. TIB (2001) presented a worrying picture where they showed that 27 per cent of children from affluent households received the stipend and 46 per cent of the stipend holders did not receive the full amount of stipend. Such irregularity of disbursing stipend is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. A clear commitment to address and solve these problems is needed in policy; otherwise our waiting period may extend beyond projected years or more to be a 100 per cent literate country.

   Another important challenge that needs further clarification is the extension of primary education up to class VIII, incorporating a final examination at the end of class V and public examination at the end of class VIII guided by an indifferent question covering the whole country. At present, nine education boards are working for carrying public examinations at secondary (class VI-X) and higher secondary (class XI-XII) levels, among other responsibilities including the effort to reorganise and monitor educational institutes established by private initiatives. The number of all students, who participate yearly at two public examinations of secondary and higher secondary level are approximately 950,000 and 750,000 respectively.

   On the other hand, 2,000,000 students, at 78,363 primary schools of different kinds, are expected to participate at the final examination of class V. Of them, 1,200,000 students are expected to participate at the public examination of class VIII if we consider 40 per cent drop-out rate at secondary level education as pointed in the Page-14, National Education Policy, 2009 (If primary education extended up to class VIII then drop-out rate will lessen as the same student will study continuously without changing institution. Therefore, number of participants in the Class VIII public exam will be more than the statistics presented here). The findings, therefore, raise questions on existing capacity of the education boards.


The legitimate question is how to accommodate 1,200,000 students under current facility. Unfortunately, no clear guideline has been provided in the proposed policy to accommodate these additional students; even no instruction has been provided whether they will be placed under the current primary education supervising authority – Primary and Mass Education Division of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education – or another new board will be launched to supervise them.

   The policy has made a provision of incorporating local government authorities and local civil society committees for making necessary arrangements for public examinations. Obviously, the inclusion of local government and participation of local people have significant relevance in this regard, but we should not forget that local government is assigned to perform a number of tasks as its own official duty. Therefore, there is a potential risk of mismatch between other government authorities and education department in case of performing such tasks.

   Problem may also arise from allocating teachers for newly proposed primary education extension. The teachers who are currently teaching in primary schools are mostly trained and educated to teach up to class V. If the primary education extends to class VIII then there is a need for extra teachers. Integration of next three classes (Class VI, VII, VIII) with existing level of primary education and associated severe dearth of competent teachers for operation of new education policy in rural areas and madrassah pose big challenges. Factually, existing teachers are not academically qualified enough to teach up to class VIII. Therefore, the government may force the existing teachers to go for retirement and recruit new qualified teachers those who are academically and professionally competent to teach up to class VIII or recruit additional teachers added to the existing teachers.
   However, both the options may bring about new problems. If government goes for forced retirement of existing teachers then 350,000 (currently approximate 350,000 teachers are working in government primary schools) teachers will be unemployed and it will create lots of social and economic tensions, no doubt.


Alternatively, new recruitment of teachers along with existing teachers will create problem in organisational hierarchy. New teachers, who will be recruited to teach students above class V may perceive themselves superior than existing teachers; whereas existing teachers will perceive themselves senior to the new teachers. Therefore, a superiority complexity may arise, which will create anarchy in the whole systems and will obstruct government's agenda of developing quality of education.

   If we try to implement newly proposed eight-year primary education from the beginning of the year 2011 (as stated in the policy), the situation may come up with many difficulties. The whole arrangement including infrastructures for reforming the existing system would take time; that might take two years or more. Indeed, if primary education is extended up to class VIII by a public examination and secondary public examination at class XII then another complexity may evolve. The students who are now in class IX and X are expected to be qualified on public exam at class X; thus it requires another two years. It is also worthy of mention that significant portion of the students failed the examination. Thus, next three years may be required for rearrangement of public examination for disqualified students. As a result, seven years might be required in order to run the new system of primary education up to VIII class completely.

   Bangladesh is a signatory to the Dakar framework (World leaders and a number of organisations signed a declaration in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal with a commitment to fulfil 6 goals for implementing education for all) along with universal declaration of human rights, Jomtien conference on education for all, convention on the rights of children. These international conventions and covenants have significant influence to formulate a time-befitting education policy. In case of financing for implementation of the national education policy-2009, the commitment to Dakar framework has been considered as momentous. Even though, the proposed assumption for increasing education budget to 6.0 per cent or 4.5 per cent of GDP in the financial year 2017-18 is very time demanding, but other sectors such as health, agriculture, infrastructure development etc. vitally sought for increasing funds as the demand is increasing day after day with the pace of increasing population.

   To face the challenges of 21st century a comprehensive and updated education policy is must. Recently proposed education policy is a positive attempt towards modernisation of the system despite shortcomings that should be clarified. The major challenges would be ensuring sound management of primary education up to class VIII. One of the fundamental requirements that might be considered is creating of additional education boards for managing newly proposed extended primary education. The target of making all adults literate by 2014 should be redefined in line with reality. The aim of reform initiatives should target reducing illiteracy in a pragmatic way. Otherwise, the policy will remain just that, a policy.

   Mohammed Abdul Baten and Md Musfikur Rahman are researchers at Unnayan Onneshan, an independent policy think-tank based in Dhaka


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