Education for all?
BANGLADESH has made impressive progress towards achieving primary education for all over the last two decades. Yet, development of primary education poses a daunting challenge because of inaccessibility and resource constraint.
The quality of education at this level is extremely poor. The deterioration of quality, high drop-out rate, and low attendance have negated the benefits achieved through rapid expansion of enrolment.
As per a base-line survey conducted by the Department of Primary Education (DPE), the drop-out rate in primary education in 2007 was 52 percent. Many reasons were found for the increased drop-out rate, but how far has the draft education policy addressed these issues?
The National Education Policy 2009 Formulation Committee presented their draft report to the education minister last September. To make the policy effective, the following issues should be clarified and considered:
The recommendation in Chapter 2 (Objective and Aim) is in line with the constitution that quality primary education will be compulsory and free for all (page 4), but it is not clear whether the admission is free as the draft only says that they do not have to pay monthly fees.
In Chapter 2, page 7 serial 21, in the clause for street children and deprived children, it is mentioned that they will be given free admission. Does it then mean that other children have to pay for admission?
If they have to pay the admission fee then how much will it be? Different schools charge different amounts as admission fee, and call it "annual donation." It was revealed by an Education Watch Study of 2006 that poverty prevented households from paying school fees, and/or other direct and indirect costs, that may be required for school admission or full participation in primary school. It was also revealed that 82 percent to 93 percent of the total annual expenditure was for private tuition, stationary, fuel, tiffin, health care, and school dress.
This year, many children either had to change their school or did not get admitted as they could not afford to pay the enhanced admission fees. Most guardians do not know that education is free for their children, or even how to avail this right.
Informal charging of admission fees should be formalised by standardising the admission fee so that it does not become a burden for the poor families, and the schools can also be accountable to the guardians. The guardians can also demand quality teaching for the payment.
Private tutoring by school teachers
Studies show that private tutoring on payment is a pervasive practice even at the primary level. The cost of private tutors was the single largest item of expenditure, as revealed by an Education Watch study in 2003-04.
Unsatisfactory quality of education forces the parents to either go for private tutoring or to pull out their children from school, thereby increasing drop-outs. Strong action should be taken against those schools which encourage private tutoring by the school teachers, as this allows the teachers not to finish the lesson in the classroom, thus forcing the students to go to them.
The recently introduced public exam of class five will hopefully reduce the dependency on private tutoring and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom.
Different tasks of teachers
It is reported that children take an average of 8 years to complete primary education. Pupil assessments have found that those who do complete the primary cycle perform on average at a third grade achievement level and lack essential problem-solving skills, and almost one-third of students leave primary school without acquiring basic competencies.
Although teachers are often blamed for providing poor quality of education, a primary teacher has to carry out 73 tasks alongside teaching, reveals a report published by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). These range from birth registration to polling duties during elections. This year, teachers were busy with the data collection of the household survey till the end of January.
The education policy did not give much emphasis on how the quality of teaching and learning would be ensured. The government should ensure that teachers do not have to do other work when the schools are open. The concerned departments, like the Bureau of Statistics for household survey, Health Ministry for EPI programs, etc should use their own people rather than using teachers.
Quality of English
The teachers are facilitators in teaching and learning in the classroom. The pupils look up to teachers for help and see them as role models. If teachers are not qualified and trained properly they will not be able to help the pupils when needed. Teaching English in particular poses more problems.
The Primary School Performance Monitoring Project (PSPMP) of the Department of Primary Education, assisted by Asian Development Bank, identified some common characteristics of teachers, among which is mispronunciation by the majority of the teachers -- especially in English.
Even though all the education policies took various steps to improve the teaching of English, the quality of English is still very poor. It is reported by PSPMP that 23 percent of the teachers misspelled words. Most of the students cannot write a simple sentence, or even their name and address, properly.
The reason behind this is the lack of efficient and qualified English teachers and grammar books. As the teachers are themselves weak in English, they take the help of different grammer books from the market and advise the children to do so.
The government should provide English grammar books and train teachers on how to teach in an effective way. This is not the case for English only; improvement of Bangla is also needed, as it is our mother tongue.
In order to make the compulsory free primary education program successful, the nation has to involve the people and the communities to help solve these problems which stand in the way of enrolment and lead to children dropping out.