In 1974, Dr. Qudrat-i-Khuda Education Commission identified education as a weapon for social transformation. UNESCO has also been promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) since 1992. It led the UN decade for ESD from 2005 to 2014. The momentum of ESD was never been stronger. However, with the implementation of SDGs, actionable steps for education have become much stronger. SDG-4 is to provide inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunity to all. Standalone SDG-4 accompanied by numerous education-related targets and indicators contained in other SDGs are meant for attaining all other 16 SDGs along with its goals and targets itself.
As primary education is the pillar for all education, these SDG implementations are important for all. While looking into the quality of Education, six to ten-year-old children and adolescents are not achieving a minimum level of proficiency in reading and mathematics. If we consider the attainment of Primary School enrolment vis-à-vis retention and quality; we are happy with the number but quality needs to be developed further while the issue of drop out also be recognised.The most important part of primary education is the qualified teacher and their training. In this area our database is still incomplete; the government is working to identify the teachers without training and the area of development for them. SDG looks into the holistic development of a child along with health and psychological well-being. The assessment shows that the proportion of children under five years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychological well-being. We need to give emphasis on the proportion of teachers in pre-primary and primary education.
A few years back following the Education Commission Report, the government decided to have primary education up to class eight and secondary education up to class twelve. Policy decision though was taken, but we are far behind of implementation. The huge challenges of converting primary schools to class eight in terms of infrastructure and teachers linger the decision to implement. Likewise, the secondary school to reach up to class 12 would face the same type of challenges.
On the way to inclusive education, the government has a plan to develop necessary infrastructures, so that the physically challenged children may have access to all educational institutions. Also, children with autism should get equal access to learning. With that aim, mainstreaming of education along with setting up the Upazila level resource centre for supporting inclusive education are being implemented piloting in eight places of eight divisions. The role of civil society, non-government organisations and researchers is crucial in this regard. They should be involved in the development of education with high priority.
Bangladesh government prepared a five-year plan under the title Bangladesh Education Sector Priorities 2020-2025. Quoting the ILO, it mentions that in the Asia Pacific region Bangladesh has the second-largest unemployed people who completed tertiary education. The unemployment rate increases with the level of education. Therefore, how tertiary education lead to skill formulation and skills turn into productive and decent work opportunities has to be recognised. The continuing struggle is to build an inclusive system of education with quality and equality that serves the vision and aspiration of the nation. ESD identified six issues to be addressed; those are rural versus urban and rich versus poor education services, quality of teachers, public examination-based evaluation, and employable skill from education, skill gap, aspiration of higher education, market relevance curriculum and low public investment. Other cross-cutting issues are as follows workforce for the 21st century, climate change, Fourth Industrial Revolution, clean water and sanitation, incentives with midday meals, free books, etc.
Bangladesh has one of the biggest numbers of students which is 40 million, about 200,000 education institutions and one million teachers and staff. In 2020, we have 16.4 million primary students, having a literacy rate of 75.7%. The pre-primary education also got boosted. In 2018, net enrolment in primary school was about 98% with a dropout rate of 18.6% while more than 81% completed primary education.
The most encouraging figure is girls’ enrolment which is 99.4%. The government gave much more importance to primary education providing the students with about 5000 new classrooms, about 8000 additional wash blocks and tube wells. For ensuring ‘education for all’ more than 45,000 children with special needs were admitted to schools and the government provided about 275,000 books in authentic language and about 6000 Braille textbooks for the visually impaired students. In primary schools, 4500 classrooms are well-equipped with multimedia facilities while the number is about 33,000 in secondary education. At Upazila level, ICT Resource Centre, ICT Learning Centre and ICT training have been arranged for the primary school teachers.In Bangladesh we have about 16000 different categories of approved madrasahs, having a total of 24 lakh students. Moreover, about 22,000 Quawmi madrasahs offer education to 25 lakh students at different stages. They occupy a large portion of education but are deprived of in terms of infrastructure, curriculum, education materials, co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities. Most of the Ebtedayee Madrasahs are mosque based and have minimum support. The government started providing ICT education, digital lab and connectivity for the madrasahs but needs to speed up. The only training institute for the madrasah teachers is in Gazipur which caters a huge number of teachers; needless to say about bare insufficiency and this is one of the major hindrances for quality madrasah education. Six boards of Quawmi Madrasah, with the approval of the government, formed a platform named Befaqul Mudrasatul Arabia, Bangladesh who is trying to standardise curriculum along with organising training for the teachers in different districts. But the effort is inadequate and unstructured. The government of Bangladesh tried to encourage and emphasise technical and madrasah education. Among so many activities of the Ministry of Education, madrasah and technical education did not get due attention thus the government, properly identifying this, recently established the Department of Madrasah education and Technical Education Department for better management of these sectors. This created an opportunity for the government to look into the modernisation of madrasah education and also bring technical education into the limelight. The government took so many steps for developing the madrasah and vocational education. Free textbooks, more scholarships and multimedia classrooms are taking the madrasah education in a modern shape. For ensuring overall quality education in the country, we need to mobilise more resources for madrasahs and technical institutions.
In vocational education, the traditional curriculum is being transformed into a competency-based curriculum. New skill courses, pre-vocational qualifications designed under TVET reform, the inclusion of more females, facilities for the technical education for more females with eight technical schools and colleges and four Polytechnic Institutes only for girls are a few among huge activities for the girl’s technical education.
In Bangladesh, tertiary education with 103 private universities has about 4 million students. These universities from the University Grants Commission have the opportunity with free broadband to be connected with the Global resources in terms of library and research.
As regards eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring access to all levels of education including vocational training for the vulnerable and also persons with disabilities, indigenous people and children in the vulnerable situation, we have achieved in 2019 the Gender Parity Index (GPI) of 1.02 while the target is 1 to be attained by 2025.
For the training of teachers in each of the 64 districts, we have primary Teachers Training Institutes where training for the Primary School teachers is being conducted round the year. A system is also developed for on-the-job training of the teachers. Along with normal training, the government arranges ICT training for them. Sheikh Russel Digital lab is providing facilities for the schools while a robust plan for providing hardware to the primary schools is also equipping the teachers with proper training.
It is common that big cities and urban areas are blessed with better educational institutes and remoteness discourages good teachers to provide service in rural schools. This is more accurate for the vulnerable area with flood, cyclone, drought and salinity. Education institutes are not conducting face to face classes for a year since the Covid-19 hit the world. This is good that instead of closing the institutes, education continued using digital technology. Initially, we faced numerous problems which could have been overcome very quickly but we could not eliminate them fully. This also brought to some extent digital divide. Lack of availability of smart phones or other devices, internet connectivity, skilled teachers for using the devices were the challenges to provide education in rural areas. It is apprehended that the Covid-19 has increased dropout in schools and this is more correct for the rural and hard to reach area.
In a global opinion poll, ‘My World’ by UN over 1.5 million people, a million of them identified education as one of the most important tools and six things for a better world. Education is the key to fight discrimination, improve health and secure a better job. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region reached the target of allocating 4-6% of GDP and 15-20% of national budgets for education while Bangladesh in 2020-21 had an allocation amounting 2.7% of the GDP and 15.1% of national budget. More spending on education would ensure a better demographic dividend for Bangladesh.
The writer is former Principal Secretary and SDG Coordinator