The impact of education or lack of it, is felt throughout a person's life. Education was declared a basic human right for all and protected in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. Since then, it has been endorsed in different international human rights instruments. In 1990, efforts were boosted towards the right to education in the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) adopted by over 150 governments. In 2000, the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal reaffirmed this commitment and adopted the six EFA goals for up to 2015. Post-EFA and MDG, a comprehensive goal for education (Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning) has been adopted under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the year 2030.
As signatory to different international commitments, Bangladesh has worked towards achieving education-related goals and targets. In 2010, the perspective plan for 2010-2021, titled Vision 2021, was adopted by the government. In it, education, amongst other issues, was strongly emphasised. It aims to provide quality primary and secondary education to every child and ensure that no child is left out by the education system on grounds of his/her family's income, gender, religion, ethnicity, or disabilities. Additionally, secondary schools would be established at every Upazila headquarter in phases and IT education would be made compulsory at secondary level by 2013. It also included measures to improve the training and quality of school teachers. Up till 2015, Bangladesh achieved considerable success in education, particularly in enrolment, gender parity, and the adoption of the 2010 Education Policy. At present, Bangladesh is working towards achieving the SDGs, and as part of it, the SDGs have already been aligned with the targets of 7th Five Year Plan (2016-2020).
There are three main educational systems in Bangladesh: (i) General Education System, ii) Madrasa Education System, and (iii) Technical and Vocational Education System. The first two are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Secondary education in Bangladesh is divided into two major sub-levels: secondary education (grades 6–10, or 9-10 as prescribed in the 2010 Education Policy) and higher secondary education (grades 11–12).
An equivalent level of education is offered in madrasas. Dakhil offers the educational equivalent of secondary school. The government legally recognises this equivalence, and graduates from madrasas are given the same opportunity to continue schooling at higher levels. Secondary education terminates with a public examination leading to the Secondary School Certificate (SSC). Diversification of courses and curriculum is introduced at the beginning of secondary education (Grade 9) in both general schools and madrasas. Technical and vocational education is also available at the secondary and higher secondary levels in vocational and trade schools, as well as in business management institutions.
Secondary education is managed and administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) which is concerned with policy formulation, planning, monitoring, evaluation, and execution of plans and programmes. This oversight also applies to technical and madrasa education. MoE works in association with the attached directorate and boards. The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), attached to MOE, is responsible for administration, management and control of post-primary, secondary and higher education (including madrasa and other special types of education). It is assisted by subordinate offices located at the division and district levels, and project offices at the Upazila level. The District Education Office is responsible for the academic supervision and regular inspection of secondary schools and madrasas, as well as the particular inspection of newly established schools. There is also a Upazila Secondary Education Office for the monitoring of stipend programmes for girls at secondary and higher secondary levels, academic supervision, and data collection of annual surveys conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS).
There are nine Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education for supervising SSC and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) level public examinations, and recognising private sector educational institutes; the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) administers the examinations and awards the certificates and diplomas. In secondary vocational education, certificate programmes of one or two years long are offered from grade 9, besides diploma programmes which require an SSC for admission. Diploma programmes are provided by polytechnics and technical schools and colleges.
The secondary education bodies have been managing a huge number of schools (20,297 in 2015), where 243,117 teachers are providing education to nearly 10 million students. The growth in girls' enrolment is commendable. Girls now constitute 54 percent of secondary enrolment, outnumbering boys. But of the huge number of secondary schools, there are only 804 public management institutes. More than 96 percent are privately managed. The number of schools is on the rise, but classrooms continue to be overcrowded and school buildings unsafe and inadequate. In underserved areas, there are shortages of schools and classrooms. The government provides subsidies to 15,984 of the total privately managed schools.
The number of secondary schools by division reveals unequal distribution. Sylhet contains only 5 percent of all institutions, while Dhaka contains 27 percent. In regards to enrolment, Sylhet has 6.3 percent, while Dhaka has 31.17 percent. The 2015 Education Survey reveals that 85.38 percent of all institutions had electrical facilities. The number of institutions with computer facilities was 87.29 percent, while multimedia was available in 71.9 percent. It was reported that 60 percent of all institutions offered computer education. This figure was 19 percentage for junior schools, 64 percent for secondary schools and 96 percent for higher secondary institutions. On the contrary, it was found that only 59 percent of institutions had computer teachers in 2013, indicating that institutions offered computer education without having the relevant faculty.
Regardless, Bangladesh has made considerable progress in improving access to education at all levels. At the secondary level, the gross enrolment ratio rose to 72.78 percent in 2015 from 43.1 percent in 2001. In 2015, the net enrolment ratio (NER) at the secondary level was 67 percent (for boys and girls together), while the gender parity index was at 108 percent. Efficiency parameters saw significant improvement. In 2015, the completion rate was 59.71 percent, compared to 58.06 in 2014. The drop-out rate reduced to 40.29 percent in 2015 from 41.94 percent in 2014, and the survival rate went up to 69.24 percent in 2015 from 63.83 percent in 2014.
The gross enrolment ratio (GER) at the higher secondary level was 38.99 percent, while the NER was 28.25 percent in 2015. However, at the higher secondary level, the cohort drop-out rate was 41 percent in 2000, but decreased to 22.70 percent in 2015. The completion rate reached 77.30 percent for both genders, while the survival rate reached 100 percent in 2015, indicating a coefficient of efficiency of 75 percent (Bangladesh Education Statistics 2015, BANBEIS).
Madrasa education is a sub-sector of the education sector of Bangladesh. There are two types of madrasas: Aliya and Qawmi. Aliya madrasas are under government supervision, while Qawmi madrasas are non-government. This sub-sector is substantially large, catering to over 3.78 million students, and includes primary or Ebtedayee education. Ebtedayee education has been on the rise. While the total number of institutions offering primary madrasa education was 7,279 in 2000, this number has risen to 9,319 in 2015. Post-primary madrasas offer Dakhil, Alim, Fazil and Kamil, which are equivalent to secondary, higher secondary, degree level and masters education in the general stream.
Madrasas, including the post-primary institutions, are for the most part privately managed. Of the 221 Kamil madrasas, only three are government institutions. Among the 9,319 madrasas in Bangladesh, 9,316 are privately managed. The 6,565 Dakhil madrasas teach a total of 1,293,194 students, more than 59 percent of which are girls. Average number of students per institution is 197. The total number of teachers employed is 66,801 and the average number of teachers per institution is 10, resulting in a teacher-student ratio of 1:19 (Bangladesh Education Statistics 2015, BANBEIS).
Bangladesh Education Statistics 2015 presented some quality indicators in secondary education. It found that the teacher student ratio stands at 1:41; the size of the average classroom is 60; 67.88 percent of teachers in schools are trained; female teachers constitute 65.16 percent of trained teachers; 95.16 percent of schools have separate toilet facilities for girls; 82.21 percent of schools have computer facilities; 72.98 percent of schools have internet connection; 85.38 percent of schools have electricity; 96.51 percent of schools have safe drinking water; and 71.9 percent of schools have multimedia facilities.
The number of students appearing for SSC examinations has been gradually increasing. Total students appearing for SSCs was 7,56,387 in 2004 and 1,108,683 in 2015. 32 percent of students passed in 1990 (30 percent for girls) in 1990, and 86.72 percent (86.28 percent for girls) in 2015. Participation in vocational examinations (SSC) and percentage of students who passed have also seen an upward trend. The percentage of students passing was 68 percent in 1999, and 82 percent in 2015.
Despite impressive achievements in enrolment, secondary education fails to equip students with the knowledge or skills the economy needs. Linkages between the curriculum and the needs of the economy are insufficient. Outdated teaching methods and examinations that test rote memory do not equip students with the analytical skills or creative thinking the country so direly requires. The quality and relevance of secondary education is low.
Constraints on the provision of high quality secondary education include: (i) an acute shortage of trained secondary school teachers; (ii) inconsistent curricula across all types of primary and secondary education; (iii) inadequate teacher management system for recruitment, registration, and performance evaluation; (iv) deficiency in teaching standards; and (v) shortage of teaching equipment.
The high dropout rate is an equally major challenge in secondary education. Though incentives in the form of stipends, free textbooks, and free meal programmes are being provided, the dropout rate is disheartening. Only 46 percent of students complete the full cycle of secondary education, reflecting a huge waste of financial resources and an inefficient education system. The secondary education system continues to have weak organisational and supervisory competence. Improving the quality and relevance of secondary education would require rigorous sector management.
Today parents think that a good educational institution can prepare their children for a GPA 5. When guardians fail to provide enough time to their children, they start to believe that money can solve this problem. They turn to expensive schools and coaching centres for their children's education. Picking up on this situation, a group of opportunists have come forward and established private schools as the number of public secondary schools is very low. As a result, formal education has become a “product” today. Every year the cost of education is rising. People have been struggling alarmingly to afford the expenses of their children's studies.
There has been widespread but poor quality privatisation of secondary education, so Vision 2021 made it an objective to establish secondary schools at every Upazila to alleviate the dearth of institutions. There is a gap between the education provided in cities and the education provided in rural areas—a gap that is gradually being widened, despite Vision 2021's promises to provide quality education to all children. We still have five years to work on it and 14 years to work on SDG 4.
In order to ensure quality education for all, the holistic and balanced development of the education sector is required. This was emphasised in the National Education Policy of 2010. Its proposed reforms to secondary education are to: (i) facilitate teacher development; (ii) improve science, English, mathematics teaching, and the use of ICT; (ii) modernise madrasa education; (iii) provide teaching and learning materials that are more relevant; (iv) improve examinations and assessment; and (vi) strengthen sector governance and administration, which include effective planning, monitoring and evaluation at all levels. For wide reformation, the sector requires adequate financial support. With that in mind, the government must start allocating sufficient resources in the national budget and monitor their effective utilisation with the greatest care.
The writer is a researcher and development activist in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org