Needed: A revolution in technical education | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 08, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 08, 2008

Needed: A revolution in technical education

THERE is no doubt that proper education makes people wiser and more tolerant of diverse views. There are three subsystems of education in Bangladesh at the secondary and higher secondary stages. These are the general education subsystem, the vocational education subsystem and the madrasa education subsystem. The first and second subsystems are for all religious groups, but the third one is exclusively for the Muslims.
Some developed countries have integrated academic and vocational subjects up to pre-university level. But a such system requires schools that have industrial attachments and workshops of their own to impart technical and vocational education along with basic disciplines.
In Bangladesh, the general education subsystem is basically preparatory to higher education. The students are required to form a sound basis in this stage for their higher studies in future. Usually, the best students can take the opportunity of higher education, and they form the cream of those who can lead the nation through their professional and administrative capacities. We cannot burden them with the vocational courses that would be less necessary for them. Besides, we don't have the resources to make every school capable of providing technical education.

Separate technical stream is the way
Some students dropout from the general education subsystem, and I dealt with this problem in an article published on November 19, 2007. There, I mentioned one of three main ways of addressing the problem of drawing the dropouts back into schools. The dropouts have almost unknowingly terminated their education in the general stream. They can, in no way, be absorbed in the employment market. So where does the solution lie? How can we use them effectively and in what activities? To be worthy citizens, surely, they must have some vocational, technical or professional training.
The students who cannot cope with general education for lack of merit or financial assistance, and dropout from the general stream, certainly have abilities and can learn some vocational skills in the technical and vocational institutes to make themselves capable earners of a livelihood. Some students may also freely choose technical/vocational education just by qualifying for admission.
There is no logic for preparing a curriculum having vocational subjects in the general stream. If we try that, a separate vocational education subsystem becomes redundant. That is why devising a separate technical-vocational subsystem is the way out.
Most professional training in Bangladesh is meant for graduates and HSC, or at least SSC, certificate holders. Our polytechnic institutes want candidates to be educated at least up to Grade 8. Many of the youth force might not have this qualification. So, for the majority of dropouts, we need some more vocational training centers that can train people who have not studied upto the 6th grade.
In some Asian countries, technical education begins just after completion of primary Grade 6. So why cannot we do that? Many of the dropouts are engaged in technical jobs, like preparation of garments, carpentry, construction, nursery, poultry farming and pisciculture, with meager training, or even just with courage and enthusiasm. If we can arrange vocational training for them, we can bring about an industrial revolution in the country and can also export skilled manpower! What institutional facilities do we have to train them?

Facilities for technical-vocational education
In the public sector of Bangladesh, there were only 20 polytechnic institutes for a long time! But thanks to the last government, 17 more polytechnic institutes were established by 2005. Besides, 23 more polytechnics have been built, but are yet to start operation.
Furthermore, there was also a flourishing trend in establishing private sector polytechnics (numbering 97!). The number of government polytechnics established and being established, totaling 60, is encouraging. Now, it is time to see where these are located. I would like to suggest ensuring at least one polytechnic in each district.
However, of the total 37 functioning polytechnic institutes, only one is exclusively for girls. We have only one institute for glass and ceramics, one for graphic arts, and two for survey. We have 12 agricultural training institutes in the public sector and 47 in the private. Still, a huge proportion of our seasonal fruits and vegetables rot every year, and we don't train people in preserving those.
We have 64 public sector technical schools and colleges (TSCs), which were called vocational training institutes before. Besides, we have only six government textile institutes, 28 specialised public sector textile vocational centers, and 13 technical training centers. There are 38 nursing training institutes, but they are under the professional training institute category and SSC certificate is required to enter into these institutions. We have a number of private textile institutes, but very few of the garment workers are trained there. They are trained while doing the job!
It is imperative that more TSCs patronised by the government under a national plan be established. Every Upazila should logically have at least one such TSC (i.e., the number should increase from 64 to over 400) that can train the school dropouts in some local trades and techniques, including processing of vegetables and fruits.
These colleges can have a variety of vocational courses, mostly of 1-2 year duration. I would suggest establishing a vocational school at the union level, which is the nearest local government structure for the general people. Here, some courses may even be of only six months duration!
There is worrisome information. We have only one technical teachers' training college (having only 15 trainers), and also a single vocational teachers' training institute (that has surprisingly only 6 trainers). Obviously, technical and vocational teachers need training to impart effective training to the students. Thus, more institutes for training the teachers need to be established so that they can cope with the increasing trend of establishing polytechnics and TSCs. Such training centers for trainers may be located in the divisional headquarters; everything need not be in Dhaka!

Encouraging vocational education
The polytechnic institutes don't have enough seats to admit all the students who try for admission. About 18,000 students study in the 37 polytechnic institutes, but the existing TSCs don't get adequate number of students. Only slightly over 8,000 undergo training in 64 such public institutions. The general people, including the school dropouts, don't recognise these as worthy educational institutions. Why they neglect these vocational institutes is a very big question.
Maybe because general schools are everywhere and the people easily recognise those. Since the TSCs are still small in number, the guardians don't recognise them, and the less meritorious students also aspire to have admission in general schools for higher education. They don't care for entering a technical/vocational institute!
Nevertheless, when they are no more in the general school system, they have to be encouraged to learn some skills so that they can earn a livelihood at home or abroad. If we have more such institutions (at the union level, as I suggest) in the vicinity of schools that failed to keep them in, then they will realise that these technical schools are for them, and are giving technical-vocational training can really help them to be worthy citizens.

An amazing trend
The number of students in government polytechnics and TSCs is still not encouraging, but the total number in the technical stream (including the private institutions) is amazing! The total number just doubled in 2005 (241336; see Fig-1) from 2000 (115655), while the number of students in colleges decreased sharply in 2005 (1.3 million) from the 2000 (1.7 m) mark (see Fig-2 in colleges that are equivalent to polytechnics). So, our education is transforming into a people-oriented technical one from the long-standing rather aristocratic general one.
However, there is no scope for complacency yet. If the industrial revolution dreamt above is to be materialised, there is no alternative to establishing more such institutions and admitting dropouts into those on a large scale. Once we can motivate our school dropouts to do this, and we have enough facilities for them, the nation can prosper. None can stop our progress. Then we can export skilled or at least semi-skilled manpower abroad; we need not send abroad a single person unskilled to be detained in the jungles of East Asia or in the deserts of the Middle East!

Abdus Sattar Molla, PhD Researcher on science education at NIE, Singapore.

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