Though the pass rates in public examinations are getting higher, a huge number of students are failing to master the desired competencies due to a flawed teaching system, observes the World Bank.
The global lender in a report states that the most common teaching method at secondary classes in the country is lecturing and reading textbooks and when it comes to interaction, teachers only ask closed questions like "yes" or "no" to check whether the students have memorised the textbook information.
This teaching practice goes hand in hand with current examination system, which tests only memory recall from the textbook, says the report titled "Bangladesh Education Sector Review" published in March.
It also observed that the teachers feel uncomfortable in adopting innovative educational approaches as they fear that using other approaches may result in poor performance in examinations.
Concurring with the WB, educationists and teachers of the country blame this on certain circumstances that include shortage of manpower, inadequate training and infrastructure facilities, poor pay and social status of the teachers.
"The weakness of our teaching process is that it is not child-centred," said Rasheda K Choudhury, former primary education adviser to a caretaker government.
Rasheda, also the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said most countries first train teachers before sending them to classes. But in Bangladesh, teachers begin to give lessons before getting trainings.
"The teacher-student ratio in our country is so high that it becomes impossible for teachers to go for competency-based teaching approach in classrooms," she said.
With one teacher for 60 students on an average, it is not possible for a teacher to closely monitor the progress of individual learners, she added.
Echoing her, Shamsuddin Ahmed Talukder, a trainer at Comilla Teachers' Training College, said the teacher-student ratio must be rationalised to ensure interactive learning.
In many schools, a teacher has to hold four to five or even more classes a day. As a result, most teachers cannot even make lesson plans for a class, let alone applying new approach in the classroom, he added.
Both Rasheda and Shamsuddin suggested redesigning the learning tools and emphasising more classroom interaction to replace the age-old method of delivering lectures only in classrooms.
The WB report states the teachers are so much textbook-oriented that they are hardly even aware of the objectives of the curriculum.
Only 4 percent Bangla teachers in government primary schools were able to correctly list all curriculum objectives while 27 percent were unable to list any, states the report, citing a study.
"This does not mean that teachers are not teaching what they are supposed to teach, but it does indicate that the curriculum is not well implemented at the classroom level," it says.
As a result, although the pass rates in Secondary School Certificate examination have increased significantly, a huge number of students lack the expected level of competencies.
The situation is even more alarming at the primary school level. Around 75 percent of the fifth graders do not have adequate competence in Bangla while 67 percent lack that in Mathematics, says the report, citing a survey of the Directorate of Primary Education.
The report further said despite teachers' eagerness to learn new and relevant technical skills and methodologies, there are hardly any opportunities for them.
There are other barriers too.
The WB findings say teaching at the lower education levels is considered to be low profile as it neither offers an attractive career ladder nor a satisfactory salary.
To ensure a better learning environment at classrooms, Rasheda stressed the need for ensuring better salary and allowance for the teachers first.
"Less than three percent of the GDP is allocated for the education sector in Bangladesh. This is the lowest among the South Asian countries," she said.
The WB suggested establishing a national institute for training primary and secondary school teachers as neither the higher education institutes nor the small-scale training programmes already available could ensure proper development of their skills.