Much to the joy of our children, almost all the educational institutions of the country except the private universities have finally opened after 18-month long shut down due to coronavirus pandemic. We hope the private universities will also open soon. The closure of the educational institutions, probably one of the most prolonged school-closures in the world, has not only caused loss of two academic years from the students' life but has also badly affected their mental health. They have suffered depression, anxiety and stress due to confinement in houses for a long period of time. How to make good the loss is a matter of grave concern.
It is not the responsibility of the educational institutions or for that matter the government alone, it is also the responsibility of the guardians to make every effort to ensure that their children return to normal life both physically and mentally and pursue their studies with full confidence.
This is only one aspect of the situation. The other aspect, which is more pertinent for overall grooming of our future generation, is to provide them with proper education befitting today's domestic as well as international requirement. Sorry to say, there has been several experiments with the education system of the country ever since the country achieved independence in 1971 but with no tangible result.
It is probably high time to do away with any more fancy experiments and reform the entire education system of the country in its true perspective so that the future generation derives benefit out of it.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has always been sincere in improving the standard of education in the country. The National Education Policy 2010 was the outcome of Prime Minister's personal initiative. She had, with all the good intentions, constituted a committee to formulate the much needed national education policy with renowned educationists, academics and intellectuals. The committee worked hard and in the shortest possible time presented a policy recommendation on the basis of which the National Education Policy 2010 was enacted
The primary goals of the National Education Policy 2010, among many, were: (a) to ensure proper quality education at each level, (b) to make country literate by 2014, and (c) most importantly the education policy has to be in tune with the need of the modern times with a view to building the future generation as a valuable human resource. How far we have progressed in that respect is a matter of constructive debate.
The country's literacy rate which was 49 per cent in 2010 is now believed to be more than 70 per cent. The drop-out rate was 50 per cent in 2010 and now it is less than 20 per cent. There are certainly remarkable achievements that should be reckoned with.
Another stunning performance of this government is the increase in enrolment rate of our children to primary school. The statistics is fascinating to say the least. It has crossed 90 per cent. But if we look at the progress of implementation of the other provisions of the education policy, it is a dismal picture.
The policy incorporated the provision of 8-year long primary education by 2018 in phases. There has been hardly any progress in reality in this respect. There has been no sincere attempt, let alone progress, on infrastructure development or recruiting adequate number of qualified teachers to extend the primary education up to class V11.
Another provision was that the teacher-student ratio will be 1:30 in primary level and 1:40 in secondary level. It is yet to come into reality. The students have been subjected to public exams, one after another. There was no provision for public examination after class V. How it was introduced is still a mystery.
The prime goal of the National Education Policy 2010 was to ensure that it was in tune with the need of the modern times with a view to building the future generation as a valuable human resource. It has yet to see the light of the day.
If we talk about quality education which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been insisting on time and again, it is still a far cry. The overall standard of our education is still well below the international level. No wonder, Dhaka University, once known as the Oxford of the East, does not find its name on the list of 1000 top grade universities in the world.
Education Minister Dipu Moni, during a recent virtual meeting, said that they had taken initiative to reform the National education Policy 2010. She said, many changes had taken place since then and it is time to revise, refine and reform it. We welcome this move.
But at the same time, we would like to say that there was nothing wrong with the National Education Policy 2010. It is the failure on the part of our government to implement it in its true spirit.
We must remember the basic goals of the policy and start implementing them on a priority basis. To begin with, the government should do everything needed to raise the primary level up to class V11 setting aside any excuse of funding.
As a part of reform, we must start developing infrastructure, change curriculum, prepare new syllabus and give our children standard textbooks. We have to find qualified and well trained teachers right from the very beginning of our children' student life. In the meantime, let us do away with public exam after class V and relieve the children from unwanted burden.
Private coaching is another menace our education system has to be freed from. These coaching centers are by no standard learning houses. They are simply business houses. They use our children as tools of their business. It is time our Education Minister took a close look into the affair and did something positive to do away with this menace once and for all.
The government has been generous enough in supplying books free of cost to students up to class X spending say 2000 crore taka annually (assumed) irrespective of the financial status of their parents. In all fairness, not more than 30 per cent of the students are really poor enough needing financial help to buy books. Why doesn't the government give stipend worth say TK.600 crore annually to these poor students in order to enable them to buy books?
What is the justification of supplying books worth Tk. 700-800 annually free of cost to each of the remaining 70 per cent students whose parents can easily afford to spend Tk.2500 per month in private coaching alone? It will be better allocating the remaining Tk.1200 crore to meet expenses like building infrastructure, providing educational equipment, recruiting qualified teachers with handsome salary, hiring experts from abroad, if need be, and so on. The budget allocation for education sector in terms of GDP ratio is only 2.09 per cent whereas UNESCO prescribes 4-6 per cent.
In spite of relatively poor post pandemic economy, we shall urge upon the government to give special attention to the education sector and among other steps increase its budget allocation to this sector substantially, at least to 3 per cent of GDP, if need be curtailing expenditure from the other less important sectors.
Capt. Hussain Imam, Master Mariner (UK), is a retired Merchant Navy Officer.