Remodeling education system
A few days ago, a letter writer termed the Bangladesh education system as "poor," and it is a fact that science education is not up to par. There's a strong opposing view against the diversified primary education system, but the government drive to implement a unified education system in the secondary stage has failed. There are many more such problems, which make a national drive imperative. In this age of globalisation, we can see what others are doing. Several years ago, I reviewed the systems in Asian countries, and recently I have done that for twenty European countries. They are Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK and Ukraine.
The percentage of GDP spent for education is a crucial factor in maintaining standards. This spending varies in the studied 20 European countries from 3.7% (Russia) to 7.7% (Denmark). We are still spending only about 2.4% (UNESCO data)!
In reviewing the education systems in Europe we can go level-wise, dealing with primary and secondary; higher education curricula being managed by individual universities.
Primary education in many countries starts with kindergarten, but usually this stage is neither compulsory nor state-run. Of the 20 countries studied, state-run kindergartens are found only in Greece and Italy. Usually, the formal and compulsory, or "basic," education begins with primary Grade-1.
The duration of primary education varies from 3 (Armenia) to 10 (Iceland) years in Europe, but is mostly 6 years. Fifteen European countries follow this pattern. The countries are Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Cape Verde, Cyprus, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and Vatican City.
Of the rest, the duration is 9 years in nine countries, 8 years in nine countries, 4 years in six countries, 5 years in five countries and 7 years in Norway. In countries where primary education ranges from 8-10 years, the arrangement is for imparting "compulsory basic education." But most other countries that declared 8-10 years education as "basic" have combined primary and lower secondary together, without merging the two completely. Thus, the duration of "basic education" is 9 years in 12 out of the 20 countries, 10 years in four, 8 years in three and 6 years in Russia.
The subjects studied at this level can vary, but every country puts emphasis on the mother tongue (also state language and English, if not mother tongue) and mathematics. Apart from language and mathematics, some type of physical education and arts/music are also studied from the very beginning. Religious studies are compulsory, or combined with civics, ethics or morality. Computer science, or information and communication technology (ICT), is studied at the primary grades in only four of these 20 European nations.
Although there are two or more subsystems of education in the secondary level, the main system is, obviously, general education. The duration of secondary education varies from 3 to 8 years in the 20 European countries. The minimum, 3 years' secondary education, prevails in only those countries where primary education is of 9/10 years' duration. In 13 of the 20 nations, duration of secondary education is 5-8 years. This longer secondary education is divided into two or three parts; the most prevailing pattern is of two substages -- lower secondary and upper secondary. Only in Spain and UK is secondary education divided into three substages.
The lower secondary curriculum is unified in most countries, having a few elective or optional subjects that don't divide the students into groups or streams. But in the upper/higher secondary stages, there are some "core" subjects and some groups or clusters of subjects. The higher secondary curriculum is streamlined in most countries, with the exception of France, Germany and Russia.
Along with language and mathematics, all the countries put due emphasis on science and social science subjects; while a subject like bookkeeping is rarely studied. Religious/moral/ethical education is studied in most of the European countries throughout the secondary stage. Computer education is emphasised in a few countries, including the UK. This subject is usually elective in the lower secondary grades.
What Bangladesh can do
We inherited vestiges of the British system, and almost the total Pakistani one, in 1972. The system of 5-year primary and 7-year secondary education was prevalent. We inherited also the diversified (grouping into humanities, science, commerce etc.) secondary (9-10) and higher secondary (11-12) systems introduced in 1961.
The Bangladesh Education Commission (Dr. Khuda Commission), formed in 1972, published its report in 1974. The Commission proposed 8-year primary to fulfil the Unesco requirement of compulsory schooling up to 14 years of age. Since then, most of the commissions formed later on supported this 8-year plan. Only the Moniruzzaman Miah Commission of 2003 supported status quo. Why did we fail to materialise the 8-year plan in 33 years?
The duration of primary education in Europe is mostly 6-years. Greece, Switzerland, UK, Spain, Germany and Russia did not dare to make primary education up to grade 8/9. However, except for Russia, all others declared education up to Grade 9/10 "basic and compulsory," yet kept grades 7-9/10 with secondary school.
Our present infrastructure can probably support 6-year primary education (87 out of known 182 countries have such a structure). Even if we can afford an 8-year primary plan, the standard would fall rather than improve (being part of the primary). The subjects in the primary level, including religion, can remain. We can introduce public examination at the end of the primary grade-6 and award Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC). It is largely felt that the prevailing test after crossing the primary is ineffective.
"Unity in diversity" is a popular phrase nowadays. What can we do is make kindergarten, English medium, and madrasa education follow the mainline curriculum, allowing diversified medium and pedagogy. More important is to make the non-functional governmental primary school education worthy through better public (not private) management and effective teaching.
Secondary education may be divided into two substages -- lower (7-9) and higher (10-12). We can declare 9-year education as basic, keeping grades 7-9 in the secondary schools. The lower secondary can be unified by having some core subjects applicable also to the madrasa and technical streams. The core course can contain a new subject -- "ethics and law" (replacing the traditional religion that has, so far, failed to enhance moral values) -- having the gist of major religions, some basic laws (including land matters) and human rights.
A Lower Secondary Certificate (LSC) can be awarded to the students successfully completing the 9-year basic education, which can be treated as equivalent to the present SSC. The 3-year long higher secondary should be diversified by having choice of group subjects along with compulsory core subjects that should be uniform throughout the subsystems.
Planning and implementing such a pattern may require some more discussion among the academics.