Chronology of Primary Education in Bangladesh

Sandhya Rani Saha

31 October, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Chronology of Primary Education in Bangladesh

Sandhya Rani Saha

There is an injunction by the sages of the old ages, “Live with the enlightened sage who ennoble life. Live the life of an enlightened man, die not. Live with the spirit of elevated souls; come not into the clutches of death (Atharva Veda 9.27.8)”. Thus the importance of education has been perceived by the intellectuals long before the invention of written documents in the subcontinent just to have spiritual gain mostly.


They have some thoughts about materialistic gain also. It has already been established that at the preliminary stage of the Vedic era, the Sages used to compose their classical hymn verbally only. The documentation of those classical works was documented later after the innovation of the script. Anyway, that was a time-consuming process and could only be attained by a group of intelligent people who devoted their lives in the systematic research and education under the care of some elites of the society. So it’s common sense to consider that the institutionalization of education is extremely old in the subcontinent.

The present educational system in Bangladesh comes across us with the glimpses of the ancient, medieval and British system of education. The ancient education system is divided into the Brahmanical and Buddhist system. However, there was no sharp demarcation between the primary and secondary level of education in those days. So to discuss the primary education system it is better to consider the education system as a whole. Anyway, the Brahmanical education system has been divided into the Pre-Vedic era (prior to the invasion of the Aryans), Rig Vedic or the preliminary phases of the Vedic civilization and Brahmanical era or the peak of the Aryan civilization. As the primary objective of the education was to acquire the spiritual development, the education system was mostly temple-oriented just helping a man to acquire a transcendental life through devotion, contemplation and self-control. In contrast, the materialistic side of the education was not a matter of avoidance to many of the teachers of the old ages. Mathematics, Agriculture, Business, Medicine, art and crafts were also in their consideration.


The students (disciples) had to stay in their Guru’s house to help in all the agricultural activities and household works. Instead, the Guru used to provide them lodging and food and education. The student life was called Brahmacharya life extended up to 12 years and also divided into several stages. At the age of five (first stage), the children were educated with alphabets. After completion of the primary step, only one student was allowed stay with the Guru as his own son. Considering the age and conception power, the Guru used to educate the apprentices with the knowledge of spirituality. The knowledge thus gained was generated through the Guru to his disciple, and his disciple and so on (parampara). Despite some criticism, the education system of the Vedic era was quite fascinating.

According to some schools of thought, the Brahmanical era came after the Vedic era around 800 BC. The objective of education was not only to become a Sanyashi but also to search the truth. The philosophy was based on the Veda. The syllabus of the education included the spirit of ancient people, the rule of the life and the death of the universe etc. The teachers, i.e, sages enlightened themselves by meditation and translated their understanding to their disciples. This system of education was called Brahma education, and to be considered as the primary education of that era. The Brahman children were given more preference in the education sector compared to that of Khatria and Baishya. The Sudras were kept away from the conventional education system. However, with the course of time, this strictness was relaxed in some particular cases. The Veda was taught in the two way: one is Poravidya and the other is Aporavidya. The Aporavidya was only limited to memorizing the whole Veda without any understanding of the text. But the Poravidya demanded the exclusive understanding of the whole subjects including how the knowledge could be applicable in the real life. —-Initially, most of the education system in ancient India was Guru-centric.  Then many of Grihi-Gurus came to adopt the profession of teaching in different places of India. There were so many educational hubs like this in Taxila in the western part India (now in Pakistan) to the eastern like NavaDweep (now in West Bengal, India).


The following education system in the subcontinent inherited from the Buddhist philosophy with a liberal and universal attitude. The prime objective of education in this philosophy was to acquire knowledge on physical development, religious philosophy, and medical science etc. The education system was still temple-centric. Every child irrespective of cast and creed must have to take the elementary education in the temple. As per the Chinese travellers of the 6th to 8th century, the students (in Bengal) are first to be well versed on the Book Shidhdhiratna containing preliminary knowledge about Sanskrit. The next courses are on Grammer, Architectural education, medical science, Logic and Spiritual knowledge, to be familiar with at the age of seven. They had to go through the text of Patanjali, Logic, Abhidharmakosha, Astrology etc. at the age of 15.


The Buddhist system of education was diminished due to the overpowering the Buddhist Pala Dynasty by the Hindu Sena Dynasty and established the Barhmmanical education system again. Later the Sena dynasty in Bengal was ousted by Bakhtiar Khalgi and established mosques, maktabs, and madrassas across the occupied territory. The subsequent Muslim rulers followed the same strategy to establish a stronghold of the Islam in the region.  Muhammad Ghori (1174-1206), Sultan Iltutmish (1211-36), Sultana Razia (1236-40), Sultan Nasiruddin (1246-66) and Sultan Giasuddin Balban (1266-87), all had their sincere appreciation to education. Even the preachers of the religion of Islam (Sufi dervish, peer, fakir) also established Khanka, Maktab, Madrashas to patronize education. The religious text is the main courses in those religious institutions taken by the Ustads. In addition to that, general accounting was also included to some extent. Hindu students had to attend their respective Pathshala under the care of a Pundit. Wealthy persons had their personal tutors to educate their children at home. This is all about the middle-aged education system existed in India and more specifically Bengal.

During the Mughal era, the Amirs and Omrahs were very much enthusiastic about formal education. In addition, they used to patronize art, music, dance and culture too. Persia was the official language of the Mughal India. Realising the diversified culture of India Emperor Akber took an initiative to change the conventional religious style to a formal one. The school-based education system was established in his time. The Hindu and Muslim cultural exchange got a momentum under his care also. Even a mixed version of new language Hindustani or Urdu was formed with the mixed use of Hindi, Persia and Arabia. However, the Hindu and the Muslims had their own educational institutions. Many of the rich persons came forward not only to establish educational institutions in their land but also to afford the salaries of the teachers. So there is a duel cooperation between the administration and the local elite personnel. The collection of zakat and donations to the mosques were also used to afford the Maktab-based education system. In addition to this, an independent and high power committee was engaged to manage the fund and the state-owned institutions. Then comes the colonial era (1757-1857). The primary education was a concern of privately motivated institutions till 1813. Then Governor General of India Lord Minto, came over with some policy issues related to primary education and allotted a budget of 100,000 rupees for the colonial region of India. Later the Governor General of India, Lord Bentinck, took an initiative in 1835, to collect extensive data on the education of Bengal and Bihar. The appointed officer for the purpose William Adam submitted three reports after extensive studies from 1835-1838.


A few years later of the submission of these reports, Lord Hardinge, another another Governor General of the British Raj took started to establish vernacular primary schools in 1844 to spread education in rural India. The project was almost a failing venture as it could not compete with the English medium school. However, Vice Roy Lord Curzon started the same programme in 1904. Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of control of English East India Company sent a Despatch to the then Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie, in 1854, suggesting that the primary school must adopt vernacular language, high school must  adopt Anglo vernacular and on college level English medium for education.


This is known as Wood’s Despatch. As per the Dispatch, the post of Director of Public Instructor (DPI) was created for every province. The medium of instruction was considered both in Bangla (for Bengal) and English. Many primary schools were established. To train the teachers, normal schools were established too. The responsibility of primary schools was given to District Board, City Corporation, and private organisations. Although the initiative failed to prove its efficiency later. Till the partition of the British India the primary education had to experience a lot of transformation. As per the Bengal Primary School Act of 1930, the proposition of full-free education for all children of 6-11 years appears to be still viable. In 1948, the schooling year extended to seven years from four. The first five-year plan of Pakistan introduced a scheme of compulsory primary education for all. But there was not much development in terms of quality of education all through the Pakistan era.

After the independence, Bangladesh government considered education as the fundamental right in the constitution. An education commission was established under the chairmanship of Dr Kudrat-E-Khuda.  Unfortunately, the report could not be implemented due to the political change in 1975.


Prior to that, a universal primary education was introduced in 44 than as under the International Development Agency through the first (1973-78) and second (1980-85) Five-Year Plans. Within the first Five-Year Plan and a Two Year Plan (1978-1980) 7730 war-damaged primary schools were renovated, 10,033 schools were repaired and 500 non-government schools were nationalised. The creation of new classrooms facilities and the establishment of new school buildings, toilet and sanitation and sinking of tube wells were done under the second Five Year Plan (1980-1985). In addition, the distribution of books, slates and the other educational inputs were supplied free under the same plan.

In the third Five Year Plan (1985-1990), a project called “Integrated School Development” was taken to the infrastructural development of the existing primary schools and to establish 1000 more new primary schools. In the fourth Five Year Plan (1990-95), the primary education was given high priority. In the fifth Five-year Plan, out of 23 projects, most of them were implemented successfully. Food for education and Upozila resource centre was included in the plan. The plans were executed with the assistance of IDA, IDB, NORAD, UNICEF, SIDA, and USAID. With the assistance of ADB, a new project was initiated called Primary Education Development Program (PEDP) targeting to the overall development of the primary education. The project is in progress in different phages. As per the report, the first phase (PEDP I) from 1998 to 2003 was not so success full. The second phase (PEDP II) was from 1998 to 2003. The objective of the project was to increase the enrollment percentage, complete the education cycle and maintain the quality of education. Third phase (PEDP III) was extended over the period of 2011-2016 with the objectives to establish of skilled, efficient, unified and balanced primary education. In this phase, gender equity and the “kids with special need” were the concern also. There is another programme under these project called “Reaching out of school children” to reduce the dropping out of the students. The programme is still active in 148 upozilas and 750,000 “out of school” children are under their control.

With a vision to educate the people, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the nation passed the Primary School Act in 1974. He nationalised 36,615 registered primary schools. Following the same trend, the present government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina nationalised another 26,192 registered primary schools. Digital system to educate the students is in progress in 10,000 schools. Even many of them have access to the internet facilities also. As per the education policy 2010, pre-primary education was initiated in every school. The policy also suggested extending the primary education period from five years to eight years. But due to the resource constraints, the time span is still limited to five years. Not only the education policy, several important steps were also taken by the Government since the 1990s to till today to improve the primary education (Table-1).

Table 1:

Bangladesh has fully satisfied the target of (Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and ranked at the top of the SARC countries. The enrollment percentage was the highest (98%) in 2015. However, MDG target was 100%. The literacy rate of the population between the age group 15-24 was 75.4%, highest among the SARC countries. The enrollment of girl student was 51% in 2015. The percentage of female teachers has been increased from 43.5% in 2009 to 60% in 2015. The number of disabled students admitted in 2015 was 19,847. The number has increased to 30,258 in 2015. The school drop out of 39.5% in 2010 was dropped to 20.4% in 2015. The stability percentage of students in class five was 67.3% in 2010 has increased to 81.3% in 2015. As per the PEDP-III Primary School Quality Level (PSQL) the teacher-student ratio should be 1:46. The ratio in 2005 was 1:43. At present, the ratio has been improved to 1:36.

The quality of education of the teachers has increased also. The number of SSC pass teachers have reduced significantly (12.9%). The teachers having the master degree has increased to 21.5% by 2015. Out of 330767 teachers, 241067 are trained with C-in-Ed (Certificate in Education). This one year course has been upgraded to one and a half year Diploma Course (DPED).  Besides, cluster training, ICT (Information and Communication Training) etc. are the part of the development of primary education. Thus the primary education system is quite advanced than that of previous stages.

Getting educated is a human right all over the world. As per the commitment to the United Nations, we have achieved the MDG target. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunity for all is another target set by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to be achieved by 2030. The equitable quality education is an injunction by SDG. It appears to a bit difficult to achieve the goal particularly for the country like us where the primary education system exists as different varieties as Government Primary School, Registered non-Government Primary School, Experimental school, Community School, Non-Registered non-Governmental Primary School, Kinder Garten, NGO Schools, Primary sections of Secondary school, EbtedayesMadrasha, Primary sections of Dakhil, Alim, Fazil and KamilMadrashas. There are various kinds of English medium schools also. Few years of SDG have already passed away. In terms of the achievements SDG so far, as per some reports published in the dailies that we are lagging behind to some extent compared to the neighbouring countries. So we have to find a way out to achieve the SDGs.
The writer is Assistant Upozilla Education Officer, Kapashia, Gazipur