More children are going to primary schools now than ever in Bangladesh. Primary enrolment rate (net) has increased from 87.2 percent in 2005 to 97.3 percent in 2013. In addition, the enrolment rate for girls is higher than boys. Though this gives a big boost to the Millennium Development Goal no. 2, which targets the achievement of universal primary education, we have to know if we have crossed the biggest hurdles in the path to education.
In the sphere of the education sector, one major concern is the dropout rates. Dropout rate in primary education is 21.4 percent which means that out of every 1000 students, 214 have dropped out by the end of the five-year primary cycle. Such rates in the secondary education sector are even more concerning: a 44.4 percent dropout rate translates into 444 in every 1000 students dropping out of school by the end of the secondary cycle. High dropout rates depict a huge waste of resources for the government as public money is being spent for educating these students.
With the upcoming government budget being revealed soon, we want to do a brief analysis of the past budgets for education and point to the particular areas that deserve more attention.
Over the last 10 years, education sector has received 11-16 percent of the total government budget. In fiscal year 2015, education and technology has received the biggest share of the government budget after public administration.
Many may think that the education sector is getting adequate attention as the size of the education budget has increased by 25 percent last fiscal year. However, it is also necessary to strip away the effects of inflation to deduce actually how much the education budget has increased; for instance, after removing inflation, we can see that the education budget has increased by 18 percent as opposed to 25 percent.
Moreover, it is also important to see how the education sector is doing compared to other countries. Government expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP has been hovering around two percent for the last few years in Bangladesh. This is lower than countries like India (3.8 percent), Vietnam (6.3 percent), Malaysia (5.9 percent) and Thailand (7.6 percent).
A more precise way of analysis is by looking at government's revenue expenditure on each student as a proportion of GDP per capita. As a rule of thumb, this should be in order of 10 percent for primary education and 20 percent for secondary education. But according to 2013 data, we can deduce that this was about 5 percent for primary and 9 percent for upper secondary. In addition, government recurrent expenditure per student has declined for primary and secondary according to BANBEIS data.
Education is a vital component for human development in a country. Research has shown that higher investment in education can have a positive effect on the growth rate of the economy. It is important for Bangladesh to increase its education expenditure. As the benefits of education can accompany a time lag, it is essential to increase investments on education immediately.
The writer is the head of research at The Daily Star and can be reached at [email protected]