Annual holidays and other closures eat up more than half the academic year at many secondary schools and madrasas, one of the reasons why students have to turn to private tutors.
This also leaves the teachers struggling to complete the syllabus. So they rush through the curriculum to prepare the students for examinations, eventually affecting the quality of education, teachers and experts said.
Secondary schools and madrasas have at least 137 holidays -- 85 public holidays and 52 Fridays. Many of these institutions are used as centres for public examinations. Students of these institutions lose another month or so of classroom learning as a result.
There are 30,000 secondary schools and madrasas in the country now. Last year, 3,412 of them were used as centres for SSC and equivalent exams, 2,541 for HSC and equivalent exams and 2,903 for JSC exams.
Officials at the Dhaka Education Board said around 1,000 institutions host at least two public exams. Another 400 schools and madrasas host all the three exams, meaning there are no classes in these institutions for around 230 days, or about eight months.
“We need to rush through the syllabus, especially in the later part of the year,” said a teacher at Tejgaon Govt High School in the capital.
This is a key reason for students to go to coaching centres or private tutors, he added.
Abdul Mannan, director of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), acknowledged that public examinations seriously hamper academic activities.
“It is a common complaint that teachers of these schools cannot complete the syllabus,” he added.
Educationists say students are deprived of classroom learning because of too many holidays and public exams.
“Students have to depend on private tuition as they do not get proper education at schools,” said Prof Siddiqur Rahman, who was the chief consultant of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board when it developed the existing curriculum for secondary education in 2012.
To improve learning at schools, educationists suggest cutting the summer and winter vacations. They also want a shorter vacation for festivals.
Prof Siddiqur said they had proposed bringing down the annual holidays to 118 days, including weekends and 24 days for midterm and final exams, in 2012.
“We had made the proposal so teachers can complete the syllabus in time,” he said, adding that they were yet to get a response from the authorities.
He is also in favour of cutting the duration of public exams. “SSC and HSC exams should not take more than 20 days. And there is no need for holding JSC exams at all.”
In addition to the annual holidays and other shutdowns, natural disasters such as floods often lead to unplanned closures. Also, headteachers have the authority to close their school for three days in a year.
Jahangir Hossain, a director at the DSHE, said they were planning to set up public exam centres in each of the 491 upazilas so that there is no need for schools to suspend class for exams.
“The education ministry asked us about a month ago to submit a project proposal for the construction of exam centres,” he told The Daily Star early this month.
Officials are now working on the proposal.
According to the initial plan, there will be one exam centre for every 4,000 students. If an upazila has more than 4,000 students, there will be more than one centre.
Each room will have seating arrangements for 100 students, and it will have multimedia projectors, CCTV cameras, and fire safety equipment.