The education system that we find in today's Bangladesh is basically inherited from the British-India period. Expansion of education among the mass people started during this time. Little improvements in the education sector were noticed during the Pakistan period (1947 -71). Bangladesh's independence in 1971 opened the door for the country to adopting development strategies in all sectors of human life, including education sector. The country has made remarkable progress in the field of education during the first four-and-a-half decades after independence. Major improvements happened during the 1990s and afterwards. The government policies regarding development of this particular sector, community initiatives, and involvement of the non-government organisations (NGOs) have made this possible. However, a lot remains unfinished. Expansion of education in some areas, combating corruption in the education sector, assurance of quality and balance, and removal of disparity at all levels of education are the challenges to the country's education system. Samir Ranjan Nath's book Realising Potential: Bangladesh's Experiences in Education is an attempt to look back into the journey of the country in the field of education during the period of 1971 - 2015. The author minutely examines the policies and plans adopted for the education sector and identifies disparities as well as the areas of improvement in this nationally crucial sector.
The book contains three articles. The first article is the principal one, which reflects the overall country status and the future strategies. It examines the national level policies, plans and programmes undertaken for the development of all streams and sub-sectors of education (i.e. primary, secondary, college, madrasa, technical and vocational, and university-level) during the first four-and-a-half decades of Bangladesh, and highlights the progress made in these sectors. It is no doubt that a significant improvement in the access to all levels of education has occurred during the last 45 years of Bangladesh. The increase in the number of educational institutions as well as the participation of girls at all levels of education is a great achievement. However, progress in the quality of education is not satisfactory. A recent study conducted by Education Watch indicates that our primary education system has become exam-centric rather than child-centric. Many independent studies have also raised questions about the quality of teaching-learning at both primary and secondary levels.
There are pressures to fulfil the increased demand of tertiary education. But this sub-sector, the author observes, faces two major challenges: i) Lack of seats to accommodate all interested school graduates, and ii) Inability to provide research and other facilities to students already admitted to universities. Tertiary education can play a vital role in sustainable human resource development as well as in various aspects of further development of education, including teacher training, curriculum planning and assessment. It is, therefore, important, the author recommends, giving emphasis on capacity building of university education in Bangladesh through collaboration of Bangladeshi universities with those of developed countries.
The second article 'BRAC's Non-formal Approach to Primary Education' is a case study which explores the country's largest non-formal approach to primary education. This article analyses the quality of the BRAC intervention in pre-primary and primary education, gathering data and findings from studies conducted during the past three decades. BRAC started work in the education sector with a functional literacy programme in the mid-1970s when the literacy rate was very low in the country, with female literacy far behind that of males. In 1984, this non-government organisation started thinking about school programmes for young children when primary school enrolment rate was 58 per cent in Bangladesh, with girls far behind the boys. Keeping the concept of 'joyful learning' in mind, BRAC initiated an experiment to develop a unique non-formal education model for the underprivileged children to equip them with basic reading, writing and numeracy, along with life skills and social studies. The number of children who received education at BRAC schools is less than that of the government schools, but as a single organisation its contribution has been next to that of the government.
Addressing the youths' issues is crucial as they are the most promising section of our population in the context of nation building. Starting with the trends in the youth population in the country, the third article of this book focuses on education provisions and attainments of the young people, along with the relationship between education and labour force participation. At the end of four-and-a-half decades of independence, Bangladesh has the highest youth population in its history. Today's youths have greater educational qualifications than those of any other time in the history of Bangladesh. However, we are, the author observes, in "the dark" about the quality of education that our youths are acquiring at post-secondary phase (i.e. university level). The youths who are not in education, training and employment are also our major concern as limited access to learning for young people, combined with a lack of employment opportunities, is likely to lead to social unrest. Similarly, the absence of "youth voice" in policy planning and decision-making processes can increase young people's frustration.
The education system of Bangladesh needs to respond to these challenges. A participatory educational planning process, the author argues, is, therefore, needed, where the youths will have the genuine chance to have the meaningful inputs. Emphasis must be given on the other important issue - the promotion of life-long learning opportunities for the youths, which is a part of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-4).
An equitable quality education plays the key role in the sustainable development of a country. Ensuring quality education is a major challenge for Bangladesh, as well as the creation of an equitable learning opportunity for all people through reducing various types of disparities. Strong political commitment, realistic target setting, an appropriate implementation strategy, capacity building for resource utilisation, and adequate investment are very much required for the development of education in the country. In this regard, the book under review will obviously be beneficial to all who are interested in getting a vivid picture about the challenges and issues as well as planning and development of Bangladesh education.
The writer is an independent researcher. [email protected]