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The Financial Express

Unifying education systems to build a better nation

| Updated: October 18, 2017 21:55:02


Unifying education systems to build a better nation

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people with an area of 56,977 square miles, has too many types of education systems and structures. At present, there are three main education systems: General Education, Madrasah Education, and Technical-Vocational Education System. Then there are English-medium schools (O-level and A-level), mainly for the wealthy class. Subjects, methods, styles and syllabuses fundamentally differ from one system to another.
Education is generally seen as the foundation of society which brings economic growth, social prosperity and political stability. But unfortunately, our education system (primary to higher secondary) has largely contributed towards dividing our society into religious and secular groups which are further subdivided on the bases of class distinction and social status. As a consequence, students are growing up with different types of thoughts and views. They are different not merely on the basis of their abilities and educational background, but also in subcultures, manners, attitudes and values; they hold diverse philosophical concepts about the past, present and future of the country.
According to the laws of land, all the children of Bangladesh are supposed to receive full free education up to secondary level. But in reality, it is not so, especially for children from poor households in rural areas. A recent survey done by BRAC reveals that poor parents have to pay bribe at every step of their child's schooling. This forces families with modest or low incomes to send their children to Madrasahs which are traditionally and mostly free, and survive on charity. And often, everything, including food and accommodation, is provided for free to students. Madrasah system is again divided into two major camps: Aliya Madrasah and Qawmi Madrasah.  
Unfortunately, madrasahs are often portrayed in the media, both local and international, as training grounds for extremists/terrorists and hence many of us also believe they are less trustworthy.  While the Aliya madrasahs teach general subjects alongside religious teachings in an attempt to facilitate their graduates to integrate with the secular sector for higher studies and employment, but the Qawmi system focuses only on religious education. And as such, Qawmi Madrasah is not recognised or accredited by the government. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), around 1.4 million students study in 13,902 Qawmi Madrasah across the country and unfortunately graduates from these institutions often face difficulty in getting mainstream jobs. This is very alarming because in such a situation, they can easily be attracted by extremist groups who can, in turn, mislead and exploit them.
We often talk about achieving higher economic growth and middle income status but forget about the urgency of developing human resources. Our massive human resource needs to be cultivated through a unified system of education and training to get out of the rut of mediocrity and achieve the status of middle income country. If properly regulated, madrasahs could be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and boosting literacy in the countryside. Therefore, it is high time to bring madrasah curriculum into the mainstream of general education system through the inclusion of subjects such as science, math, etc. We also need to unify our various types of education system that exist in the country and create a level playing field where every student will get the same and proper opportunity. We must remove discrimination in every stage of education.  
We know education is a major driving force of development in any modern society and the miracles of development lie in the development of youthful minds and souls with knowledge and skills. But faulty, divisive, discriminatory and contradictory education cannot produce good citizens, let alone taking the country forward. At present, 33 per cent of our population belongs to the age group of 0-14 years, 18.8 per cent to the age group of 15-24 years and 37.6 per cent to the age group of 25-54 years. If we can harness this powerhouse of the nation and guide it in the right direction, then the country can reach greater heights. It is the responsibility of the state to guide our young impressionable minds and induce them with values that will shape their personalities and their outlook towards others by cultivating an atmosphere throbbing with unity, solidarity and harmony.
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