"> Photo: hbconsultantsWhen taken a look at Bangladesh's achievement in the Millennium Development Goals, we can see that the country has performed a remarkable feat. The Millennium Development Goal number 2 targets to achieve universal primary education. As far as net enrolment rate (NER) in primary education is concerned, the country has performed very well with a rate of 95 percent. For girls, the NER in primary education is 98 percent (BANBEIS), implying that girls have done better than boys in terms of enrolment in primary.
Now let us observe the enrolment rate of boys and girls in secondary education which comprises classes VI to X. The NER in secondary schools for girls is also higher (47%) than boys (39%) (BANBEIS). This indicates that Bangladesh is also reaching well in Millennium Development Goal number 3 which specifies promotion of gender equality and empowering women.
Education of girls and women are associated with positive effects such as reduction in poverty and a fall in child mortality rate. Since enrolment rates of girls are outstripping that of boys in both primary and secondary education levels, we can expect that the advantages of educating girls will dribble in the economy.
However, things may not be as straightforward as these numbers suggest and deeper problems can be perceived once taken a closer look.
Although net enrolment rate for girls is high in primary education, the dropout rate stood at 39 percent (BANBEIS). This implies that 39 percent of all the girls who were enrolled in grade I are dropping out by the time they reach in class V. The situation for girls is slightly better than that of boys as 40 percent of them are dropping out by the end of class V.
The scenario gets worse in case of secondary education. The dropout rate of girls in secondary education is 60 percent (BANBEIS). This depicts that 60 percent of girls who were enrolled in class V are dropping out of school by the time they were in class X. The dropout rate for boys however, is lower than girls and stood at 52 percent (BANBEIS). One of the key reasons for girls dropping out is early marriage. A lot of parents, especially in the rural areas feel that it is important for an adolescent girl to get married and bear a family than to complete her education. There is also a practice in rural Bangladesh that as a girl gets older, a higher dowry is realised from her family in order to compensate for her rising age.
Another important issue of inclusiveness of girls in education is that contrary to the overall and general trend of girls' enrolment in schools being higher than that of boys, the enrolment of girls with special needs is significantly lower than boys, shows UNICEF report on Quality Primary Education in Bangladesh.
A new report by UNESCO on education depicts that education helps to save children's lives. Education helps women recognise early signs of illness, seek advice and act on it. If all women in poor countries completed primary education, child mortality would drop by a sixth. If they all had a secondary education, child mortality would be halved.
While celebrating the country's feat in enrolment of girls and gender equality, we should also remember the challenges that exist. Taking a girl to school is a first step but we must also ensure that girls stay in school, learn and complete their education. Only then can we reap the full advantages of educating girls and empowering women.
The writer is the head of research at The Daily Star and can be reached at email@example.com