Education plays the most important role in bringing economic growth of any country and Bangladesh is no exception to it. Indeed, education directly enhances human capital and helps sustain the overall development of a country. But that education must be a quality one suiting the needs of local and international businesses as well.
The Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is about quality education. The difference between Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that, while MDGs talked about ensuring enrolment and completion of primary education of all children, Goal 4 of the SDGs emphasises inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning. The targets of Goal 4 include imparting free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education for all boys and girls, eliminating gender disparities in education sector and encouraging learners to acquire knowledge and skill needed to promote sustainable development.The 7th Five Year Plan of Bangladesh envisages achieving 8 per cent GDP growth rate by 2020. At the same, the government’s aim to graduate Bangladesh to a middle income country presents a huge challenge for its economy. Now the question of the hour is whether the current education sector of our country is equipped enough to deal with these challenges. The answer is not obviously affirmative in the light of the overall scenario. Let’s shade some light on it.
The thing is that our education system is based mostly on rote learning. The prevalence of this practice is due probably to lack of direction. The country has an excellent National Education Policy (NEP) 2010 which can, and should be the guideline for conducting our education at all levels. The policy states, as one of its objectives, that it will encourage both creative and critical thinking among the students. Unfortunately, seven years after the policy was passed in parliament, we are still waiting to see its full or even partial implementation. In the absence of proper guideline, our education system is floundering. We need creative minds that are capable of thinking productively. Now we have more often seen “super managers’ from India, South Korea. Sri Lanka and other countries take over high-end jobs in our garment and industrial sectors for which local graduates are not adequately qualified. These super managers are skilled and creative and can think out of the box; they can also effectively communicate with the world. And they are taking home five billion dollars (USD) from our hard earned foreign exchange every year. We can’t allow it to continue years together. We need to create our own managers and technicians, not stereotyped clerks who just follow orders.
Despite the fact that Bangladesh made commendable progress in gross-enrolment in primary education for both genders, the country is indeed lagging behind in ensuring quality education for all. There are some important indicators related to the quality educational infrastructure which include “present share of trained teachers in total teachers in primary education” and “pupil teacher ratio in primary education”. During the years 2010-2015, in the case of trained teachers, Bangladesh (53 per cent) performed very poorly compared to India (77 per cent), Pakistan (83 per cent), Sri Lanka (79 per cent), Malaysia (97 per cent), Thailand (100 per cent) and Vietnam (100 per cent). In the case of pupil-teacher ratio, though Bangladesh (39.8) performed better than Pakistan (42.8), it performed worse than India (32.5), Sri Lanka (23.8), Malaysia (11.9), Thailand (16.1) and Vietnam (19.4).
Regrettably, Bangladesh is among the bottom in the list of countries in the world with the lowest ratio of public expenditure on education to GDP, which is only 2.1 per cent. This ratio is 3.7 per cent in India, 5.4 per cent in Malaysia, 4.3 per cent in Thailand and 5.3 per cent in Vietnam. This explains why the private spending on education as a share of household monthly expenditure is much higher in Bangladesh compared to those of other South Asian countries. According to the latest available Household Income and Expenditure Surveys of South Asian countries, the share of private expenditure on education to the average monthly household expenditure in Bangladesh is around 5.5 per cent, 2.6 per cent in India, 4.8 per cent in Nepal, 2.5 per cent in Pakistan and 1.9 per cent in Sri Lanka. This suggests that the share of education expenditure heavily falls on the households in Bangladesh and the government’s role is yet to be ideal.
As far higher education is concerned, Bangladesh can certainly boast of it having now more than 90 public and private universities, most of them established in early 90s onward. Over this short span of time, these universities, owing to rather profit-driven motive of the promoters, have been mushrooming across the country. The quality of these institutions is everyone’s guess. It seems higher education has become a commodity, let alone building an enlightened individual. This commodification of education has led to the creation of several markets, including one for giving private tuition. The tuition/ coaching centres have thus emerged as substitutes for colleges and universities. To one’s wonderment that none of these universities are not at all accredited. It is quite disheartening to note that presently none of our public and private universities falls into the category of world’s 500 standardised institutions, though Dhaka University was once recognised as the Oxford of the East. Obviously, the level of higher education in Bangladesh is deteriorating with every passing day. It seems that we are bent upon to increase quantity at the cost of quality.
What needs to be done at this juncture? Some major overhauling in the education sector is badly needed, which should include improvement of the quality of education, modernisation of curriculum, substantial increase of trained teachers, harmonisation among different education systems, putting emphasis on vocational training and skill development etc. For this, there is a crying need for a substantial increase of the ratio of public spending on education sector to GDP from its current level of little over 2 per cent to at least 4 per cent in the coming years, and making such spending more efficient. The sooner it is done, the brighter is the prospect.
The writer is a Retired Deputy General Manager, BSCIC. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org