Education policy 2O1O: Keeping the promise
A new National Education Policy was announced by the government in June 2010. It had the potential of initiating a process of much needed reform in the educational system of the country.
In over two years since the policy was adopted, progress has been slow and lacklustre -- bringing about the change envisaged in the policy needs a surge of energy and a sense of urgency.
The grand coalition that formed the government after the general election, in December 2008, had presented a political manifesto containing a "vision for change." It offered Vision 2021 -- which outlined goals to be fulfilled by 2021 - the 50th anniversary of independent Bangladesh, which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of birth of the Founding Father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The political pledge
Vision 2021 is still to be fleshed out, but the headline items related to education and human resource development can be listed.
Achievement of universal primary education, extending this stage to grade 8; elimination of illiteracy; creating a new generation skilled in and equipped with technical and scientific knowledge; better remunerations for teachers; and overall improvement of quality and equity in education. It also promised the formulation of an education policy fit for the contemporary age.
There are other Vision 2021 goals pertinent for educational development -- building the Digital Bangladesh through extensive use and capacity development in digital technology; creating gainful employment opportunities for at least 90 million skilled workers; and ensuring equal status for women in all spheres of society and the state.
A key item relevant for educational development is governance and management, particularly, the idea that local government bodies would be at the centre of planning and management of development activities. With this end, local government authorities at the district and upazila levels would be empowered to become self-reliant and autonomous.
In addition, the election pledge of the Bangladesh Awami League for the five-year term promised continuation of stipends for girls, removing criminal violence and session-jam from education institutions, lbuilding new secondary schools and improving existing ones in the capital city and districts and vocational institutes in each upazila in phases; and making IT instruction compulsory in secondary schools by 2013 and in primary schools by 2021.
The education policy
The 18-member National Education Policy Formulation Committee comprising distinguished educationists presented their report in a short time, after extensive consultation with professional and stakeholder groups. The policy was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in June 2010, then was endorsed in December, 2010 by the national parliament -- incidentally, the stamp of endorsement came from the Parliament without any discussion in the relevant Parliamentary Committees or debate in the Parliament.
The key features of the education policy recommendations provide a framework for fulfilling the role of the educational system in the nation's human resource development.
Universal education up to grade 8: One-year pre-primary education, and primary education extended to grade 8, should become universal within the next decade. It is agreed that the diversity of provisions in primary and secondary education -- government, government-assisted, NGO and private sector schools, and the madrasa -- would continue, but all institutions will have to follow a common core curriculum and adopt minimum common standards regarding learning content and provisions.
Multiple delivery modes with common core curriculum and standards: The common core curriculum for all types of secondary level institutions (including madrasa) will include Bangla, English, mathematics, science, Bangladesh studies, and IT. These will be complemented by additional subjects pertinent for each major stream -- general, vocational, and madrasa.
In addition to the vocational stream in schools, there will be various forms of skill training activities according to graded national skill standards designed to meet skill needs in domestic and overseas employment markets. Instruction in science and IT would be given special attention.
Literacy and non-formal education: A literacy programme to eliminate adult illiteracy by 2014 is proposed. Non-formal education is seen as a means of providing a second chance to those who drop out of formal schools, complementing the "literacy campaign."
Quality improvement in tertiary education: Tertiary education institutions, both public and private, would be encouraged to take responsibility to establish and maintain quality standards within agreed framework and to ensure effective use of resources.
A four-year degree programme should be acceptable higher education qualification for most occupations except for those aiming for teaching, research and other jobs that call for specialized expertise.
A three credit English course should be compulsory for all degree students. Various quality enhancing investments in facilities and teacher upgrading are proposed.
Pedagogic technology such as internet and education television channels should be supported. Specialized professional education in medicine, agriculture, engineering, law and business should be made more practical and their quality enhanced with involvement of the professional bodies.
Student assessment to discourage rote learning: Assessment of learners' achievement should be based on public examinations and continuous evaluation by teachers, which should aim at assessing cognitive, affective and reasoning domains. Major public examination will be at the end of the 12th grade. Other examinations will be organized at the district/upazila levels at the end of 5th, 8th and 10th grades to award scholarships and evaluate system performance. All exams should be aimed at discouraging rote learning.
Teachers' status, incentives and training: Teachers' recruitment, training, professional support and remuneration should be key elements of the strategy for improving quality in education. A Teacher Recruitment and Development Commission should be established to recruit teachers and support their professional development.
Governance and management measures: A consolidated education law should be enacted providing a legal framework for educational governance and management in line with the purposes of the new policy.
A permanent education commission should be formed to guide implementation of policy objectives and consider adjustments in education policy over time. Management of primary education should be decentralised with greater involvement of community and parents and greater authority for schools.
Secondary education should be decentralised to upazila, district and division levels. The University Grants Commission should have greater authority and be renamed as Higher Education Council. Accreditation Councils should be formed to encourage improvement and self-regulation in quality of tertiary institutions. Incentives should be given for faculty research.
The National University's affiliating function should be decentralised to divisional levels by establishing branches.
It can be seen that the policy recommendations are in the form of normative goals or preferences sometimes expressed in general terms. Implementation of the policy will require establishment of mechanisms and processes, preparation of phased operational plans, and reconciliation of differing views and making choices among options on certain issues. This can happen only with the setting up of appropriate mechanisms and processes.
The sixth five year national development plan (2011-15) could be an important mechanism for implementing the operational plan and program with provision for adequate resources, appropriate coordination and necessary monitoring and adjustments of plans as needed.
However, the five-year plan is called an indicative plan, rather than an operational guide for annual and medium term budget allocations, and the basis for monitoring and assessing implementation of programmes and budgets, and making adjustments.
A plethora of committees headed by officials of the ministries has been set up for education policy implementation who do not seem to have the time, professional capacity or motivation to devote effort and energy to this challenging task.
In over two years since the adoption of the policy, some changes are being implemented within the existing structures and systems, as part of on-going development projects. Basic reform issues are not receiving serious and systematic professional attention.
Education policy implementation is seen essentially as an administrative matter rather than carrying out fundamental reforms.
Priorities for realistic action
Major priorities in respect of objectives and strategies for the education sector have emerged from the new education policy and on the basis of professional and stakeholders' discourse and analysis. These need to be the core of the development efforts in education.
Universalisation up to grade 8
Achieving eight-year UPE have to be a high priority for the coming decade. However, the question has fallen between the stool of two ministries with jurisdiction for school education -- which is quite a unique situation, not found in any other country.
A coordinated upazila-wise assessment and planning of existing primary and junior secondary facilities is essential for this purpose through a coordinated approach of the two ministries. It is not necessary to have more classrooms and teachers in every primary school or shed grades 6 to 8 from every secondary school. A logical approach of course would be to bring all school education under one ministry.
The key concern is to overcome the quality deficits and expand facilities as needed in both primary schools and in lower secondary schools. It would be unconscionable not to have education opportunities for all children at least up to grade 8 even in the year 2021. Serious planning must begin now.
Equity with quality in primary and
The government has made a policy move to nationalise all primary schools, first time since the then existing primary schools were nationalised in 1973. Will it follow up with nationalising ibtidayee madrasas and then grades 6 to 8 of present secondary schools and eventually all secondary schools? A pandora's box has been opened which will have critical implications for education policy implementation.
A pertinent question is whether It is necessary to mix up the question of improving remuneration, status and performance of teachers with bringing total school management under a highly centralised government bureaucracy. There is much to be said for community and parents' involvement and accountability in school management.
A statist mindset seems to be strong in our bureaucratic tradition and culture. Any form of government support comes with a bundle of bureaucratic strings, which, in stead of improving accountability, becomes a fertile ground for corruption and cronyism. The political class is also comfortable with centralised control rather than transparency and accountability at local and community level involving the beneficiaries.
It is possible to have a governance and financing strategy that would support Upazila-wise systematic planning and financing with local government and community participation, promoting such measures as mid-day meals in school, and appropriate remuneration for teachers, without taking over total management of all schools by the central government.
Larger government support including higher remuneration of teachers could be conditional on schools becoming accountable to parents/communities. A quantum leap in quality could be made if NGOs with good track records are made partners in government assisted primary/secondary schools -- providing government funds for agreed results. Rigorous trial and piloting involving research, academic and NGO practitioners could be undertaken for this purpose.
Teachers as key to quality
The teacher is central in the strategy to improve educational quality. It is recognised that bold and creative measures are needed to attract talented and inspired young people to teaching, keep them in the profession and create a critical mass of talented teachers in the education system. Bangladesh uniquely does not have a proper pre-service programme for teacher preparation, though this is the single largest occupational category into which tertiary education graduates enter.
Recognising that a large proportion of the tertiary education products, especially form the colleges under the National University, are absorbed by the teaching profession, new initiatives for enrolling bright young people in a degree programme with education as a subject can be a key pre-service program approach for future teachers. A national education service corps established with
stipends and promise of better remunerations on condition of at least five-years of service in the public system is one possibility for quality enhancement.
A nucleus of highly capable people in teaching and new role models for the profession can thus be created. For such an initiative to produce the intended results, a special project has to be carried out to improve and maintain quality in the degree colleges where the education degree would be introduced.
Common core contents in primary and secondary education
A qualitative transformation in teaching the identified core skills and competencies in all categories of primary and secondary institutions has to be a priority. Possibilities that exist are short term measures such as contractual appointments and extra incentives for capable instructors in math, science, English and IT.
Longer term measures would include special pre-service programmes (as mentioned above) and better incentives and rewards for transforming teaching as a profession. Strong bilingual competency in Bangla and English for all students completing the secondary should be a core objective -- building the foundation of Bangla competency at the primary level and similar English skills and IT skills at the secondary stage. Mobile phone operators, IT multi-nationals, Internet service providers and other businesses can be persuaded and given incentives to "adopt" schools to support IT instruction and IT-based improvement in pedagogy.
The objective of a common core of competency for all children through basic education calls for curriculum continuity with attention to curricular burden and sequence and not pushing children irrevocably into streams (science, commerce, vocational etc.) too early at the end of grade 8. Educational systems in most countries defer these decisions at least to the end of secondary education for very sound pedagogic and social justice reasons.
Assessment of learning
The education policy goal is to ensure that tests and assessment of students help them move away from memorising textbooks and really acquire defined competencies. Assessment of learning has two complemetary elements -- day-to-day and periodic assessment in the classroom and school and more formal and public tests at the end of a stage of education. These are described respectively as assessment for learning -- to help children perform better; and assessment of learning -- to determine what students have learned and how the school and the education system have performed. Both are essential for quality education.
The introduction of national primary school completion and junior secondary certificate examinations has produced consequences not quite foreseen. Increasingly high pass rates and high percentages of "golden grade point average" of 5+ are being reported with great fanfare and claims about improvement in the quality of education from one year to the next. These high scores are quite inconsistent with independent sampling of actual competency in basic skills of reading writing and math of primary and secondary students.
The public tests for six subjects for primary and nine subjects after grade eight are based entirely on the textbook contents rather than actual competencies students are supposed to acquire. A competent professional and technical team should be invited to undertake research and evaluation on how the national testing serves the policy objective of assessing and improving actual competency and how this may change classroom teaching. Public testing at primary and lower secondary level -- unlike at secondary and higher secondary -- to put students in performance categories publicly and announce individual student grades publicly is contrary to international education practice.
Transforming vocational and technical education
Addressing the paradox -- employers' complaint about shortage of skilled workers and unfilled places in vocational institutions and sometimes unemployed graduates -- have to be addressed by redesigning the role of the public sector in vocational/technical education and training, and its operation and management. Particular attention is needed to make training responsive to market demands, locally and overseas; skill development for the informal economy where the large majority of workers are employed; and overall attention to quality of training by applying "external efficiency" criteria.
Vocational education centres are planned to be established in each of some 500 upazila centres. Their efficiency and quality has to be ensured by responsive curriculum, flexible training methodology and employers' involvement in design and management.
Literacy and NFE in a lifelong learning perspective
An unattainable target of "eliminating illiteracy" by 2014 based on a simplistic and meaningless definition of literacy was set and, not surprisingly, little progress has been made., Literacy and non-formal education need to be conceptualized as integral components of widely available life-long learning opportunities. A nationwide network of community learning centres under local government auspices with active involvement of NGOS and community organizations can be the vehicle for life-long learning, complementing formal education. Promoting functional skills and meeting genuine learning needs on a sustainable basis should be the aim, and programmes designed and objectives defined accordingly.
Consolidating Quality in Tertiary Education
Tertiary education management, including public universities and colleges under the National University, is in shambles. Although participation in tertiary education remains low, expansion of tertiary education will not produce the desired results, unless acceptable quality can be ensured.
The focus of tertiary education development should be on applying rigorously already established quality standards and consolidating and rationalizing existing institutions, while investment is made on a major expansion. It is difficult to see how the situation can improve until the political leadership can muster the will to catch the bull by the horns to control rampant indiscipline, crime and violence in institutions aided and abetted by partisan politics.
Financing of education for equity with quality
Public education allocations have actually come down as proportion of GDP and total budget since the education policy has been announced. Financing criteria and principles should be established and applied to support the objectives of quality-with-equity, such as a Upazila-wise capitation formula and institutional control of resources with accountability. Substantial new resources should be directed to teacher incentives and raising status of teaching as a profession and other quality improvement inputs. The essential measures in this respect will include:
Much larger resources for education setting a target of around 5 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the government budget in in 5-7 years -- using an education cess, as in India and Pakistan, as one approach;
Applying a capitation formula -- allocating resources with a formula counting number of children in each Upazila and overall economic and ecological situation of the upazila;
Use of public resources based on a coordinated and comprehensive plan for equity with quality for each upazila; making budget planning and implementation genuinely bottom up.
Far-reaching changes foreseen in Education Policy cannot be achieved by business as usual. Three critical steps will be a good start.
A permanent statutory education commission with technical capacity to guide and oversee progress, as proposed in policy;
Bringing all pre-university education under one Ministry for essential coordination, articulation and continuity; and
A Right to Education Law that specifies rights and obligations of all and supports a decentralised, participatory and accountable national education system with equity and quality for all as the goal.
An education law in draft appears to be mostly about administrative measures rather than substantial reform related to decentralisation accountability, rights and obligations of different parties and resource mobilisation.
A longer term view and a broad national interest perspective are essential foe educational reform. Short-term, populist and narrowly partisan approach with a time-frame of the next general election will only compound the problems further.
The writer is Senior Adviser at the Institute of Educational Development, BRAC University.