First of all it must be admitted that we have been able to formulate and work out an Education Policy after decades of polemics. Passed in the Bangladesh National Parliament on December 7, 2010, and thus known as National Education Policy 2010, it is a great leap forward in education. It may be mentioned here that the 18-member Education Policy Formulation Committee was formed on April 6, 2009 with National Professor Kabir Chowdhury and eminent economist Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad as the Chair and Co-chair respectively; the committee submitted its report within four months. I am fortunate to be in a position to play a small role in the process, as a member of the Education Policy Formulation Committee. I have reasons to be happy for being inducted in the Education Policy Implementation and Monitoring Committee later as well. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made an unprecedented decision in involving policymakers in the implementation mechanism. Before formal adoption of the policy by the government, the draft policy was posted online at her instruction for open discussion and eliciting public opinion. This resulted in a positive outcome and the Education Policy this time was able to achieve wider acceptability in the country. Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid also deserves appreciation for his proactive role all through the process.
There are 30 aims, objectives, goals and principles mentioned in the Education Policy which include, among others:
To create a society free from the curse of illiteracy;
To remove socio-economic discrimination in regards to race, religion and creed, and to eradicate gender disparity; to develop non-communalism, global fraternity, fellow-feeling and respect for human rights;
To give priority to primary and secondary education; to show students the dignity of labour; to enable them to acquire skills in vocational education and facilitate self-employment, irrespective of educational qualifications;
To ensure the proper context and situation in the education system at the higher level to facilitate the ideal environment for learning;
To ensure the education of the physically and mentally challenged learners.
17 important steps regardless of the level of education are also suggested in NEP 2010, of which mention may be made of the following:
Gradually, programs have to be implemented at all level through the co-ordination of the demands for different levels of socio-economic manpower, educational qualification and expertise acquired through education.
It is urgently required to free the educational institutions from the influence of party politics. To realise this objective, guidelines have to be prepared and strictly implemented.
It is necessary to prepare some code of conduct for the teachers and learners at all levels of education; they will be made aware of it accordingly. To do this, different and appropriate committees must be formed. It has to be ensured that students, at any level of education, do not face any physical or mental abuse.
Effective co-ordination of all levels of education and differential responsibilities for management of those levels will be in place. There will be an effective inter-ministerial coordination of work.
Another progressive step recommended in the NEP is teaching common core subjects like Mathematics, Science, Bangladesh Studies, Environment and Climate Change in all streams at the primary level, including general, English medium, technical schools and madrasas.
Continuity in education and reports
The question of continuity is very vital in education and there is little scope for placing completely new things in the world of knowledge. Not just anybody can write a book on Physics or Chemistry to satisfy his or her whim, ignoring the axioms and theories established through years of research and experimentation. This is the case with the education policy as well, which is for the most part a continuous process. Here, neither the past can be turned down nor new innovations can be disowned. The Qudrat-E-Khuda Commission Report of 1974 must be given due credit for its uniqueness, forward-looking ideas, in-depth analysis and concrete recommendations for the removal of malaise in almost all the tiers of education including disparity and discrimination. However, we find many things common in the education reports of Bangladesh. Not only the Qudrat-E-Khuda Education Commission Report, almost all the reports on education support the extension of primary school to the eighth grade and the introduction of pre-primary education, and stress on vocational/technical education. The reports in question include the Interim Education Policy of 1979, Mofizuddin Report of 1988, and Maniruzzaman Mia Report of 2003. In my view, the difference actually lies in the approach, which has been traditionally political in nature and has had concerns regarding implementability. In this regard, the initiative to thrash out the difference of opinion by the government led by Sheikh Hasina could achieve national consensus; no apparent discord or protest was also evident during the adoption of the NEP 2010. But many do not consider the question of implementation, particularly its progress, satisfactory.
Challenges in implementation
As a member, I proposed in the first meeting of NEP Implementation Committee to constitute an independent body which would have a separate office either in the Ministry of Education or outside, like NAEM, managed by people other than government officials since they remain preoccupied with their normal work or are overloaded. Only secretarial services from government officials were sought. But the proposal did not receive due consideration.
The formulation of NEP was relatively more smooth because of openness in the process, valuable guidance from the Chair Prof. Kabir Chowdhury and the tireless efforts, rather round the clock engagement of the Co-Chair Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad in maintaining both the timeliness and preciseness of the NEP draft. The services rendered by the then NAEM Director Sk. Ekramul Kabir also deserve mention; he helped the Co-chair especially in sorting out and copying the divergent proposals made by some thousand individuals and organisations. As members, some of us were given specific responsibilities such as preparing write-ups or draft on one or more particular topic. This was done to save time and to utilise our services in the required areas.
In regards to implementation, isolated actions, such as not linking NEP in the decisions of the government in the field of education, also reflect the lack of co-ordination. For this, not even the positive actions of the government could be circulated properly. Now that the slow pace of implementation of the NEP is under question, ascertaining coordination and fixing priorities is vital in the process. To mention a few:
1. Passing of the Education Policy without any further delay;
2. Establishment of a permanent statutory Education Commission;
3. Formation of Teachers' Recruitment Authority;
4. Introduction of decent, attractive pay structure/separate payscale for teachers from primary to higher education levels.
Again the challenges that stand in the way of implementing the Education Policy must also be faced with courage and vision:
1. Appropriate allocation for education;
2. Ending politicisation in education and the interference of vested quarters;
3. Linking the existing education system to the job market;
4. Taking effective steps to keep a check on brain drain;
5. Promoting science education;
6. Establishing coordination in the management of education and educational institution;
7. Ensuring the process of monitoring in every tier and stage of education;
8. Adopting effective measures to check corruption;
9. Introducing proper pre- and in-service training for teachers;
10. Ending corporal punishment of students at the hand of teachers.
The Education Minister refers to debt servicing as a challenge to increase education budget, though he himself supports allocating 20 percent of the budget or 6 percent of the GDP to education. There are merits in his contention but the political will of the government is also considered no less important a phenomenon. Collection of revenue from utility services like the ongoing levy on mobile phones and other avenues like the CSR and the local self-government have also been suggested by members of the civil society. In connection to this, Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director of CAMPE and elected Board member of Global Campaign for Education (GCE), has rightly emphasised the need to strength participatory planning and accountability, the watchdog role of civil society in local level education governance, academic supervision, community engagement and monitoring.
Education can be universal and transformative
Very recently I received a message from the office of Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO in response to my new year greeting which reads: “On behalf of the Director-General who is currently on an official visit abroad, thank you very much for sending these kind greetings for 2015. In return she has asked me to convey to you her warm wishes for good health, wellbeing and every success in taking forward your country's ambitious education and human development agenda. In the course of her visits, she has had the opportunity to witness first-hand the formidable commitment of your government to providing all children and youth with quality education and skills, and often cites the impressive results achieved, in particular with regard to overcoming gender disparities in education at primary and secondary levels, as proof that with political will at the highest level, the right policies and resources, Education can become universal and transformative.”
The writer is the Chairman of Initiative for Human Development (IHD), a member organisation of Asia and South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE). He can be reached at email@example.com