Dhaka Tuesday October 16, 2012

Decline in science education at secondary level: Problems and prospects

Bangladesh Freedom Foundation (BFF) and The Daily Star organised a roundtable on 'Decline in science education at secondary level: Problems and prospects' on September 22, 2012. We publish a summary of the discussions


Mahfuz Anam, Editor & Publisher, The Daily Star
Nations without a strong scientific background will get lost in today's global competition. Science is not only for scientific research but also for creating a scientific mindset. A scientific mind is a logical mindit is a fact-based mind.

I think our goal is to put emphasis, nationally, on the declining trend of science education. We have to strengthen government efforts, create awareness among people and find out whether there is any scope for private sector organisations to carry forward government efforts.

Sazzadur Rahman, Executive Director, Bangladesh Freedom Foundation


We, Bangladesh Freedom Foundation, have been working since 2009 in improving science education at secondary level as well as popularising science education. The objectives of this roundtable are: drawing governments' attention to the decline of science education; encouraging other actors, dealing with education for incorporating this issue in their programmes; and informing media and activists about this serious issue, in order to build up some sort of working network and partnership.


Syed Manzur Elahi, Chairperson, Bangladesh Freedom Foundation


Benjamin Franklin first introduced science and technology in university curriculum in the 18th century. Imagine if we were not to get Boro from IRRI-Philippines, what would have been our food situation? Boro is nothing but science and technology.

A nation has no alternative to science for growth. Our education system is now plagued by BBA. I do not think this is suitable for a student of 17 or 18 years of agea student should have 5-6 years of practical experience before completing MBA. First you should learn science then you should aim for administration.

With that realisation, the board of Bangladesh Freedom Foundation decided to work towards promoting science education, especially at secondary level, under the theme of “Freedom from Ignorance.”

Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, VC, University of Asia Pacific (Moderator)


All the education policies taken in Bangladesh talk about the importance of science, but there is no adequate follow-up and funding to realise those suggestions.



Munir Hasan, Consultant, MoST and General Secretary, Bangladesh Math Olympiad


Summary of the Keynote: The state of our science education is not good at all. The decline rate is so horrible that one of my slides express the concern of extinction of science reading from our secondary schools.

Our parents are encouraging their children to study BBA or humanities. Students are opting for BBA because of easy reading content, less study, better job prospect, and shorter time spent on the course. In both of our studies by BFF and TQI, we find that students think science is difficultit is hard to get a GPA-5 in science. In the study of the TQI project it has been shown that a science book is equivalent to two commerce books. A science book contains 300 pages where a commerce book has only 100 pages. So it is easier to get GPA-5 reading a 100 page book rather than going through 300 pages of any science books.

The project findings even suggest that science books should be made contracted. Previously we had charismatic teachers who had influence upon students, which is quite rare today. Most of the schools do not have their own laboratories. For an exam, it is difficult not to get full marks, it is guaranteed. So no one cares about laboratories.

We do not have good science teachers; so the number of students reading science is declining; as a result we do not have adequate science based intellects and IT workers; so we are still far behind many knowledge-based societies.

In the garment sector, most of the midlevel positions are occupied by Sri Lankans. They work in science related jobs. We do not have enough efficient science graduates to meet our local demands.

In fact, we had two field studies: One conducted by Freedom Foundation in 2010 among 240 schools of 7 divisions, and another study was conducted under the Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) project where 200 schools of 16 districts around the country were surveyed. In 2009 the percentage of science students was 14.5 which declined to 13.3 in 2011 and now it is less than 12.

The situation got worst in rural areas where they did not find any science students as they visited school after school. For example, in Kumarkhali 32 schools out of 52 do not have a single science student. This is the general picture of science education.

A study showed that among 47 male students in class VIII only 9 took science at class IX and the number was 6 in the case of female students out of 46. So, overall science education is declining as well as female's enrollment in the subject.

We asked students and teachers why students' interest are declining. Almost 60% of the students answered that the cost is high, similar to many teacher's opinions too. It is interesting to find that the number of teachers (42.1%) finding science difficult to pass is higher than the number of students (35.7%). The same thing happens to science syllabus. 35% students find science difficult where 40% teachers find it difficult! So we found that teachers are actually discouraging students rather than motivating them for an education in science.

Respondents talked less about infrastructure though 80% of the surveyed schools do not have any laboratory. However the number of teachers per school is not that bad, the ratio is 2.5 teachers per school.

So, how can we attract students to science education? In response to this question, 31.4% talked about easy teaching methods and 15.5% talked about writing books in simpler and more communicative ways. This year we have tried to write a book in a simpler way. This IT book is for class VI students, written in a different way incorporating images and style of story telling. This is a pilot project. After assessing the feedback we will suggest further on how to make a science book more communicative.

Text books are plagued with mistakes. The text book board are not bothered about it. They give excuses on not having enough time to recheck these errors. I do not think this can be a valid reason because last year we submitted the book for class VI in November and the book was printed by January.

Our research of all 420 schools shows that they do not hold science fairs regularly. It is interesting to find that in 1986 the allocated fund for science education was Tk.33 lakh which has now declined to Tk.28 lakh. This is ridiculous. In 1986 the number of districts was 21 which now stand at 64.

Back then it was possible to hold science fairs in every district annually which now takes place around 20 districts a year only. In this rotation after every 3 years, science fairs get arranged within a district. According to our survey, 95% of the schools have never arranged any science fairs. In Chittagong and Sylhet the rate is nil. Most of the students and teachers opined that science fairs, like co-curricular activities, are effective.

We get a clearer picture about why we do not have qualified science teachers from the research conducted among math teachers. In 1987 Ershad introduced the idea that a science student can pass SSC taking Islamiat avoiding higher math. In HSC level he further introduced that a mix of physics, chemistry and psychology could be termed as science education where one did not need mathematics. When these students got admitted in Honours again the government came up with new mix of B.Sc including biology, psychology and etc. So, most of the teachers, who passed in 1997, do not have mathematics at the honours level. Usually members of the school selection committees had no idea about this change. So it happened that during 1997 to 2004 science teachers got recruited in rural areas 90% of whom passed only 100 marks math in their total secondary and tertiary education. So when these teachers are scheduled to take math class they rely completely on notebooks and memorisation. They make the math a matter of memorisation.

Our survey among 4,500 mathematics teachers showed that among them 3,600 had only 100 marks math in the secondary and tertiary level education.

Another point is that usually in class VI, VII or VIII students do not get math teachers from mathematics background. These teacher are more engaged in class IX and X, and teachers from different backgrounds have to take the math classes at the foundation level. It is terribly damaging our foundation.

In the 80s, there was a board called Education Equipment Board which used to produce educational equipments. A science teacher had to spend most of time in drawing images or charts or graphs. For example a biology teacher had to draw the image of frog's digestion system and it took a lot of time, so the teacher put more emphasis on drawing rather than on content.

Students also did the same because during exams drawing was more important than content. To save time of the class education equipment was of great help, and the board was assigned for that. But, unfortunately in the 90s the board was shut down by the government.

How can we get out of this situation? We have put proper emphasis to implement our national education policy. We have to go deeper into the problem. Ad hoc solutions would not bring any result. We have to train our science teachers. Modernisation and reformulation of our text books are other important areas. If we can make the book more interesting we can attract more students. We have to set up laboratories and engage students in practical classes. To implement these suggestions we need more budget. Most of all we have to create enthusiasm in science education. Another point is that we usually put our emphasis on science from class IX but we should start at least from class VI because that is the foundation.

Dr. Aminul Islam, Emeritus Professor, Daffodil University


The most common finding is that science teaching is very costly compared to humanities and business studies and is attributed to private coaching. Lack of facilities for holding practical classes, including absence of trained teachers to conduct both theoretical and practical classes, are also considered for the decline in the number of science students. Thirdly, inadequate or almost no appearance of awareness programmes such as science fair and science Olympiads add to the problem of declining enrollment. While agreeing with the above recommendations, I like to put forward some more:

* In science subjects, along with modernisations of theory papers, practical works must also be modernised.

* A cadre of qualified science teachers should be created with suitable salary and incentive. For this a science teacher civil service may be created.

* A national standard in science education must be set in all pure subjects like physics, chemistry and mathematics with cooperation of teachers from better schools, colleges and if necessary from universities also.

* Science teaching must be enquiry based. Genuine curiosity and excitement of learning should be there.

* There is a tremendous dearth of qualified teachers in physics, chemistry and mathematics in schools and colleges and bright young scholars are reluctant to join outside cities. A special salary scale may be introduced for science teachers.

* There should be a method of evaluation of all the teachers by the introduction of student assessment which is very successful in the US and in some private universities.

* Every school must have a computer laboratory with properly trained teachers, even in remotest village of Bangladesh.

* Science parks may be established wherever possible.

* Teacher training at all levels in the schools and colleges is absolutely necessary to improve the standard of teaching in all subjects.

* There should be a reasonable salary for teachers at all levels. The salary structure may be same as in neighbouring India.

* Finally, government will and commitments are absolutely necessary for improving not only science teaching but teaching in general.

Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury
In India, the Department of Science and Technology has started an initiative called “Inspire.” Inspire is an acronym for Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research. It has three sub-projects: scheme for early attraction of talents, scholarship for higher education, and assured opportunity for research career. In the attraction programme they give five thousand Rupees each to 1 million young learners from class VI. This is a big monetary attraction to science. In the scholarship for higher education programme government provide 80 thousand Rupees per year to 10,000 student aged between 17-20 years. Under the assurance programme these students get job guaranty after completing their graduation in science. This is a lifelong commitment. I think financial benefit will attract student in rural areas.

Dr. Rezaur Rahman, Ex. Chief Scientific Officer, BAEC


We have to motivate parents, teachers and students to pursue science education. And for that reason we have to bring forth some model for them by following whom they can get inspiration. I think Dr. Alam's success will inspire our student to pursue their career in science.


Dr. SM Mahbub-ul-Haque Majumder, Professor & Dean, Daffodil International University


Our structure of science education is very weak. We have to create lab facilities. In schools, teachers emphasise more on getting 25 numbers than taking practical classes. I think the marking system of practical classes should be judicious.

Now, one can get a B.Sc degree without attending physics, chemistry and mathematics courses. When we recruit science teacher we only see his B.Sc background not what subjects he or she has completed. For this reason they fail to teach the basic science courses in school. Another thing, managing committees of a school usually recruits teachers and most of the time the committee do not look after these issues; they are only driven by their interest.

Another point is poor salary structure and social status of the teachers. This is really demotivating.

Professor Mohammad Ali Asgar PhD, Fellow, Bangladesh Academy of Science


We have some positive sides. One of them is increasing the number of science publications. We were students of great professors but they did not have publications or they did not think of it as a necessity. But now we have been seeing that some of our students have even more than 100 publications of their own.

I think abolition of the Equipment Board was a disastrous idea.

We usually perform demonstrative experiment. But we have to have real experiments; we have to find new facts from those experiments.

My suggestion is that we have to make science indispensable. If we move towards large scale industrialisation, the demand of science will automatically rise. That is very important.

We have to use television and other media in encouraging science education. Our student should be inspired to use their computer for scientific education not games only.

Professor Naryan Chandra Paul, Member (Text Book), NCTB, Dhaka


Our national curriculum committee includes prominent professors and educationists. They take the decision of who would write and what would be written. NCTB just maintains communication.

I would urge our text book writers and curriculum committee members to provide their book within time so that we can go through the books and avoid mistakes, and most importantly, we have to provide book timely.

Farseem Mannan Mohammedy, PhD, Assistant Professor, BUET


Many think that the syllabus of secondary level science education is too much and not suitable for young students. I think we can merge some chapters so that it does not seem that the number of chapters are too many.

I think there should be a national task force to monitor our science education syllabus so that we can get feedback from teachers, students and guardians and develop a syllabus so that it can attract students to science education.

Professor Mohammad Ali Asgar PhD
According to Unesco recommendation we should emphasise on concepts and ideas rather than description or information, and then there will be no need of memorising information. We should also change our examination system so that students can answer using their critical faculty and understanding rather than memorising information.

Dr. Lutfar Rahman, VC, Daffodil International University


In rural areas we can establish at least a well-equipped laboratory for all the schools of the area. Then the fund of the laboratory would be good enough for a well equipped laboratory. This cooperation is a good solution.

We should create a culture of science education. In schools we hold cultural programme, sports events and many other things but science programme. Holding science fairs should be mandatory. And for this we can initiate programmes like Inspire. Incentive works better.

The government cannot do all these alone. They should invite private organisations like Freedom Foundation and make policy for public-private partnership.

We can establish science museum like India and many other developed nations where anyone can go and enjoy science practically.

M. Habibur Rahman, Education Adviser, Save the Children


I want to put emphasise on reverting the sense of difficulty in studying science. We use science in our everyday lives. So it should be easier and practical. I think change of this attitude will reduce our negative perception about science education science education is difficult and costly.

Our literacy skills are poor. Literacy skill means reading, writing and arithmetic skills. BBS research in 1991 showed that literacy skill among class V students was only 26% whereas Education Watch's survey showed that literacy skill among class VIII students was only 36%. So we have to emphasise on qualitative development of literacy skills, and without that it is difficult to improve science education.

My next point is using easy language for science education. Our students often struggle to apprehend meaning of scientific terms. We should use lucid and communicative versions of these terms. I want to remember Dr. Sharfuddin Al Muti who tried to present difficult ideas of science in a simple way and made science education popular.

We often talk about teachers' training but it should be teachers' education. A teacher of a primary school should be given the scope of graduating as a high school teacher so that he continues his education and learning. A teacher who is constantly upgrading himself can also provide better service to his students.

We have to include science related education in early childhood, which is up to age 8. This is the formation time of cognitive development. Research shows putting science related education in between 3 to 5 years is very helpful for children's cognitive development. ICT based teachers' content development is very important for popularizing science education. Save the Children has been doing this at the primary level and government at the secondary level. Our research shows that through ICT based content students can learn better.

Our national education policy is very narrow in terms of science education. In the education policy, there is no mention of popularising science education. I think a national task force should be formed to develop our science education step by step and disseminate science education to the grass root level.

Md. Saidur Rahman, Director General, National Museum of Science and Technology


In national science and technology museum we have science galleries, museum-bus, sky observation camps and science exhibition bus for disseminating science. School and other education based programmes can utilise this resource which can promote science knowledge.

The government has recently passed a law on science and technology trust, and a trust has been formed to find ideas to develop informal science education.

From the museum we provide fund at the grass root level to organise science week but that fund is inadequate. It takes almost three years to cover all the 64 districts.

Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury
National Science and Technology Museum can provide scope of carrying out experiment in the museum. And this should be open for all and experiments could be supervised under experienced researchers.

Mokhlesur Rahman, Senior Operations Officer, South Asia Human Development, Education, The World Bank


The future of Bangladesh lies in knowledge but our ability to generate new knowledge and use it innovatively depends upon scientifically literate population. The findings indicate severe national consequences on comprehensive human development specifically innovation, science and technology to keep the country up in the world competition. The curriculum and teaching tools need to be overhauled to make it student friendly. Science subjects' teaching should be demonstration based instead of lecture based. And I have seen in other countries, schools organise science debate, innovative fairs, awards for good performing teachers and students and provide recognition for better educational career.

Science teachers could be given incentives and training. We can readily use internet-based teaching aid on science. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. However GoB needs to facilitate low cost sustainable power package in the rural areas. A few countries also hire good teachers from other countries. Bangladesh can think about it. The current incentive for teachers , that is the MPO, needs to be changed to subsistence based and performance based mechanisms that will improve the school performance and school management authority should be included here.

Education and career are directly linked. And GoB should ensure bright future for the science graduates of the country and create adequate employment opportunities for them.

In Bangladesh we do not have a national assessment system, assessment system for policy makers- what ministry is doing, what we are doing, are we competitive- is not there. Now we are doing this at the primary level in pilot basis but that should be robustly implemented, other countries are doing so.

Razia Begum, Lecturer, Teachers' Training College, Dhaka


The duration of science and math classes should be increased so that teachers can get adequate time to provide the lesson using practical tools.

In teachers' training college we train teachers with education tools and advice them to use those materials in the classroom. But we do not have any institution or company to provide those materials. In the recent Math Olympiad we put a stall where we showcased different types of educational tools. We found students and teachers interested to buy those educational materials. So, I think, a company could be set up to produce such educational tools.

We have to include some activity based lessons in our text book so that students find interest.

Hammad Ali, Brac University


We have to create positive role models in science education so that people find interest in science and logical thinking.

I think science teachers should get more incentive so that they can concentrate on research.



Kanika Chakraborty, Muslim Aid-UK, Bangladesh Field Office


I think parents are the worst victims. We are talking about creative questions but we are forced to buy notebook, so is it not contradictory? My child is a science student. I have to pay off thousands of taka for his coaching and tuition. And it is really difficult for a middle-class family to maintain such a huge cost.

I never find him doing any practical work at home. When I ask the teacher he told me that it would take place before the final exam. You stay assured that your son will get A+ in the exam. So, how can a student learn science without attending any practical class?

I also found and often find a lot of mistakes in the text books used. It's horrible.

Arshad Hossain ndc (Joint Secretary), DG, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novotheatre


Novotheatre is an informal science education centre. We have various types of facilities to promote science education. We are now planning to set up more theatres in different divisional towns. I will urge all of you to use our facilities in order to promote science knowledge and education.


Tanvir Arafat Dhrubo, Student, BUET


Besides governments and private organisations, students can do a lot for promoting science education. We have talked about the problems of education materials of science education. I, along with my friends, have made a plan to prepare some science education material by using various types of wastages. By this project we can make an inventory for students from class V to X.

Students can go back to the home village and organise a science fair that does not need much money, but good effort.

In our media, especially TV media, we do not have any science related programmes for children. Even we do not have any renowned science magazine. From the Satyen Bose Science Club of Buet we have been trying to bring out a science magazine but we do not get fund. I think these things should be considered seriously.

Now the time has come to switch over to online education which can be an effective parallel. We can also prepare video tutorial based lessons.

Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury
There are many good video contents on science. If that can be translated into Bengali it would be a great contribution. But there is no alternative to face-to-face teaching. So we need good teachers.

Md. Mahmudur Rahman, Teacher, St. Jospeph Higher Secondary School


We are providing laboratory facilities to our students from class IX.

Another thing is that our science syllabus is too big to cover within our academic calendar. Our textbooks should be modified to more child-friendly ways.



Professor A.R.Khan, Ex-President, Bangladesh Academy of Sciences


A social movement is required to revive the situation. Math Olympiad can be a good example. We can use it for dissemination of science education. We should also strengthen our science week programmes.

It is difficult to find good teachers in science education. In our time teachers had social esteem though not huge money. Without improving teachers' status we would not be able to go ahead.

Role of media is very important. If daily newspapers bring out a page, at least in a week, that will create awareness among general people. Most important thing is building scientific mind set. If

Science is a thing which cannot be borrowed. You have to have your own base. So we have to strengthen our research works in science. We have to emphasise on science education at the school level.

Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury
We have to attract science students to teaching professions. India has been successful in doing this. To be a teacher after passing B.Sc is a preferred employment opportunity as you can stay near to your home and get a handsome salary. Even they can buy a Maruti within two or three years which is beyond our imagination in Bangladesh. We have to provide some sort of incentive to the science teachers, especially teachers with mathematics background to attract them in teaching at primary level.

TQI report also shows that many school demand 2 teachers; one for mathematics and another for biology, psychology or non-mathematics subjects. A trained teacher will also be able to motivate students to go for science education.

We have to focus on rural areas, most problem lies there. We have to set up school based laboratories, if not individual laboratories. I am involved in a voluntary programme where we provide science tool box, prepared by Dr. Ibrahim, to different schools. We can make a small dent by taking these small steps.

How can we recognise our better performing science teachers? We can profile the best science teachers around the country and recognise them nationally.

Spelling mistakes in text books should be eliminated.

I recommend the government to form a task force with specific guideline to look after the causes of decline in science education and make way outs.

We will carry on our campaign and meet with the government authorities to sensitise them about the decline of science education in Bangladesh.

Mahfuz Anam
The Daily Star can initiate a Science Award to recognise nationally our whole range of personalities and institutions who contribute significantly to promotion of science education.

I think a big opportunity is in front of us. Bangladesh would be one of the worst victims of climate change. This is of course a big challenge. For scientific mind set, I think, this is an opportunity. Because, every solution of climate change effects how you adapt to new situation and how you prevent the climate change problem will come from science. People will dramatically feel the impact of science in everyday life. And that will be the scope of strengthening our science education and building scientific mind set.

Science education also has to be approached scientifically. There is already scope of online education, video tutorial and various types of education contents. We should take full advantage of these opportunities.

We, The Daily Star, will provide all the supports as a media to carry on the campaign of promoting science education.