A novel approach to sustainable quality education
Bangladesh has achieved remarkable progress in educational "quantity," but there are widespread concerns among parents and society in general about the quality of education, particularly in the rural areas. Quality education is a requirement for "Smart Bangladesh," and it will be an irremediable loss if the country fails to educate its young generation in order to reap the benefits of a demographic dividend that will slip away in the 2030s.
An extensive project that this author carried out in 50 schools across the country under an NGO over the last 12 years demonstrated that significant advancements in quality education are possible even within the current constraints and limitations. The project achieved remarkable success in these schools in areas such as English language skills, maths Olympiad, ICT, debate, sports, and cultural programmes. The use of learning-centred methods in classroom teaching and participation in different co-curricular activities allowed students to enhance their learning and develop skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership, as well as in strengthening character. The results showed that the schools can deliver quality education if they are provided with guidance, logistics, and some level of material and non-material support.
Unfortunately, once the external source of intervention – our NGO – was removed, the fruits of success dissipated. Our expectation that success would generate momentum in the community to team up with the school for continued quality was not met. The community applauded the initial success, but failed to support the school in continuing its pursuit of quality education. In the absence of encouragement and support from the community, the school gradually reverted to its usual mode of operation. Other successful projects met a similar fate and saw a regression back to a culture of dependence on external bodies. Sustainability of the successful approach remained elusive.
That is when the idea of Shikkhar Shamajik Dayitto (SSD) – the social responsibility of education – to foster active involvement of all stakeholders in the foundation of quality education programmes – took shape.
The idea is based in a society-wide consensus that quality education is a common good – a right not only for children, but for every member of the community. While children have the right to a good education, they also have the responsibility to work for it. Teachers have the responsibility to impart quality education, but they have the right to ask for the needed resources. Parents have the right to expect quality education for their children, but they also have the responsibility to provide the needed opportunities to their children and to support the school's efforts to provide quality education. Community members, community leaders, and public representatives have the right to expect schools to deliver quality education, but they need to support the schools in doing so.
Quality education serves the interests of students, but also the interests of society. It is therefore a personal as well as a social responsibility of students to work hard to achieve quality education. Parents, for their part, need to support their children, thus serving their own interests as well as the interests of the community. Providing good teaching enhances the prestige of teachers, but it is also their personal and social responsibility. A good school enhances the prestige and social standing of the community and its leaders, and so they have a responsibility to ensure that the school has the resources to deliver quality education.
The convergence of the rights, responsibilities, and interests of all stakeholders creates a win-win situation for all and is the cornerstone for internalising the SSD concept.
The resulting commitment is expressed in an action plan (which may be expressed in the form of a shamajik ongikar, or a social contract), specifying the roles and responsibilities of the school and the community, respectively, with a clear mechanism for successful implementation. A small group including school management committee members, teachers, parents, and community representatives may be formed with the task of ensuring that all commitments and responsibilities specified in the shamajik ongikar are executed effectively.
In the broad spectrum of education, government support is certainly a must-have, but such support alone cannot meet all requirements. Experience in many countries including our own shows that a school performs its task much better when parents and the community engage with it.
In the SSD approach, the community takes up the role of providing additionally needed resources for quality education. Quality is accomplished through the combined efforts of the school (students, teachers, and school management committee members) and the community. If success is achieved, the cooperative relationship can continue and sustainability becomes a natural part of the outcome. The SSD entity (such as an NGO) provides needed training, logistics, and evaluation, as well as recalibration of the SSD exercise based on evaluation.
This author started two pilot projects being executed by two NGOs to implement quality education programmes using the SSD approach. It is expected that more NGOs will be motivated to adopt the SSD concept that promises continuation of the quality programme in a self-reliant manner by the community and the school, even after a project is completed.
The work plan developed for SSD integrates the concept with the quality education programme developed and refined by this author. However, the SSD concept can also be integrated with any quality education programme of any organisation. What they need is concurrence on partnership and the design of the programmes to harmonise their goals with their capabilities.
For an NGO operating with an education project, the introduction of the SSD concept entails little additional costs. The NGO typically seeks to create awareness in the immediate community, in addition to the direct beneficiaries of the project. The SSD concept aims to accelerate the awareness campaign by augmenting it with a social contract and creating the possibility of self-reliant continuation by the beneficiaries.
The concept being so versatile deserves national attention. A national awareness campaign to spread it from the upazila level to the district, divisional, and national levels may be undertaken. An organisation (e.g. the "SSD Foundation") may be formed to support its implementation in education projects by different organisations.
An attempt to achieve quality education in about 25,000 schools across Bangladesh with a massive injection of resources by the government would take time and create inefficiencies. Working with the SSD concept with the available resources, each community can take care of its own schools while making the task more focused, efficient, and achievable. As a result, the country as a whole would take a major leap forward in achieving quality education in a shorter period of time and in a more efficient manner.
Dr Jasimuz Zaman is a former professor of chemical engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet). He has co-authored 'Quality Education for Rural Bangladesh,' a book based on his work in the schools as a full-time volunteer in an NGO.