Bangladesh has made some visible progress in its education sector. Whereas, many developing countries are finding it difficult to address gender gap in education, Bangladesh has already achieved gender parity at primary and secondary levels.
According to official figures, girls account for 51 per cent of primary school enrolment, while their proportion for the secondary level is 54 per cent. This trend has been sustained for quite a few years, and the participation rate of girls is also on the rise at the college and university levels.
Whereas enrolment rate in primary education was 94 per cent 10 years ago, it is currently around 98 per cent. The pass rate in primary education has also risen from 89 per cent in 2009 to 98 per cent in 2018. Enrolment rate of students is also increasing at the secondary level and dropout rate is falling. Dropout rate at the primary level has come down to 18 per cent from 39.5 per cent in 2010; while the rate is 36.1 per cent for boys and 40.19 per cent for girls at the secondary level at the moment.
The government has made a bold move to nationalise one secondary school and one college in the upazilas where no such government institutions exist. Recently, 2,730 private educational institutions have been brought under the government's MPO (monthly pay order) coverage. Teachers are being recruited in private educational institutions based on examinations conducted by 'Bangladesh Non-Government Teachers' Registration and Certification Authority'.
The threat of question paper leakage during public examinations also appears to have receded due to efforts made by various agencies.
However, despite such positive trends, over half the students are not acquiring desired skills in Bangla and mathematics, and 19 per cent students are dropping out before completion of primary education. Even official statistics show the dearth of language and arithmetic skills among school students.
These contradictory trends demonstrate that although there have been quantitative improvements in primary education, quality has not improved to a satisfactory level. Such scenario exists at secondary, college and higher education levels as well.
The main complaint often heard about the education sector is the declining trend in classroom education and domination of private coaching-cum-note-guide books. According to a survey conducted by Gano-Swaksharata Obhijan, 86.3 per cent students receive coaching even for appearing at the primary education completion exam.
The creative method was introduced over a decade ago to discourage rote memorisation and encourage students to write after thorough learning. But in reality, over 40 per cent secondary level teachers cannot even set questions in accordance with this method. As the teachers themselves could not absorb the new method, it is natural that the pupils would too face problems in digesting it.
There are allegations of irregularities and corruption in different segments of the sector. Although the National Education Policy was formulated in 2010, many of its important recommendations including raising jurisdiction of primary education up to class VIII has not yet materialised. It is unfortunate that a comprehensive law on education has not been framed based on that policy.
The recommendations of the national education policy included separate pay structures for all teachers, setting up of a permanent education commission and establishment of a separate commission for recruiting teachers, similar to the Public Service Commission.
The budgetary allocations for the education sector have also stagnated over the years.
Number of primary schools in the country has increased from 82,674 in 2010 to 134,147 in 2019. Similarly, the number of secondary schools has jumped to 20,465 from 12,012 in 1995. However, a 2014 survey showed that more than 50 per cent among the class VIII students lacked required skills in Bengali, English and Mathematics. Around 43 per cent of teachers at the secondary level cannot set questions in line with the creative method. The rest take exams with the help of others or by buying question papers. About 37 per cent teachers use guide books, and 22 per cent among them work as house tutors.
All these data indicate that classroom teaching is not being conducted properly. Undue interferences by managing committees in private educational institutions are also rampant. And there is acute shortage of quality teachers in government schools. A similar trend is observed at the higher secondary level.
The number of public universities in the country has risen from 31 in 2009 to 49 in 2019. On the other hand, the number of private universities has jumped from 51 to 105 during the same period. The proportion of female students has increased from 31 per cent to 37 per cent in public universities, and from 24 per cent to 28 per cent in private universities during these 10 years.
But in spite of the increase in number of higher educational institutions and students, official figures show that 25 private universities are currently running without vice-chancellors, and half the universities lack treasurers. Complaints centring on appointment of teachers in public universities are quite common. Some serving vice-chancellors are also being accused of irregularities and bribery in recruitments and development works.
It is apparent that unemployment rate among educated youth in Bangladesh is now on the rise due to weaknesses in the higher education system, and dearth of employment opportunities. According to Bangladesh Labour Force Survey, the number of unemployed people was 2.677 million in 2016-17. Of them, 39 per cent were educated unemployed, which suggests there is no alternative to job-oriented and skill-based education for improving the employment figures.
Overall, there has been much quantitative progress in the country's education sector. But quality has not been able to keep pace with quantity. Alongside quality problem in higher education, the weakest performer has been the secondary level education. As a consequence, quality and standard of human resources being produced in the country are often not up to the mark. This, in turn, is adversely affecting the collective endeavours for socio-economic progress of the country.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.