The educational arena of the country is currently experiencing development and implementation of a new curriculum from pre-primary to higher secondary level, with the handing over of new books based on this new curriculum, to the students of grade one and two and six and seven from the year 2022. With this in view, a pilot project was decided to take place in 100 primary and 100 secondary schools respectively. However, ignoring the previous declaration, it is heard that not in 200 primary and secondary schools, but piloting will start from primary, and this number may be 100 to 120. Developing a curriculum is a huge task, a gigantic task indeed that we hardly realise. We seem to misunderstand its importance, keeping it limited to transferring teachers from government institutions to NCTB, publishing books and distributing those among students.
The ongoing curriculum was developed in 2012, and its revision was supposed to start from 2017, but was not done. Mostly government college teachers along with a very small number of government school teachers are posted in NCTB to develop and review curriculum along with other responsibilities. However, it cannot be said plainly that only the government teachers are able to develop curriculum though they hold the designation of ‘expert’ after getting transferred to NCTB. Many of them get transferred on recommendation or by maintaining a powerful lobby or by other means. I was invited to a workshop at NCTB several years ago where an additional secretary from the ministry commented, “You all have become experts after coming to the NCTB and occupying a chair individually. How you have come here is known to all concerned. If I ask you whether you have written even an essay absolutely by yourself in your teaching life, I am sure none of you have done it. I see NCTB has become garbage.” I noticed that nobody protested it nor gave any answer. That means they accepted his words which is really a fact.
The organisations that can take the NCTB officials abroad get benefits from NCTB in various ways. This kind of proof has been published by some newspapers and these organisations or NGOs get the opportunity to work for NCTB for developing and revising curriculum even though they don’t have such type of experience. NCTB officials defend this point by saying that university teachers are involved in developing curriculum, not NGOs only. Whenever we hear the name of university teachers, is there any logic to become so restless? It is not unknown to us how most university teachers are employed. After getting employment, how many of them actively get involved in politics and other games keeping away from studies and research. Many of them don't even have a clear idea about the system of education in Bangladesh. I want to cite here one example that I experienced just several months back. One teacher of DU, who is conducting research or implementing a project on primary education, was asking me several questions that really astonished me. The questions were - i) Is there any government primary school in Bangladesh; (ii) the Primary Education in Bangladesh is up to grade 8, isn’t it? When I said ‘no’. I got the reply ‘are you sure of it? (iii) Are the primary teachers getting MPO? When a university teacher does not have a transparent idea about the primary education or secondary education of Bangladesh, how are they being given the responsibility to conduct research on it, and how will they make recommendations? Of course, all teachers don’t belong to this group. However, those who know well about the education system of Bangladesh, their number is very few.
NCTB has employed several NGOs to review and develop curriculum that has been highlighted by media in such a way as NGOs don’t have any experience or are quite incompetent in understanding and developing curriculum. Actually, the NGOs working for education know a lot more than government officials as they have the potential, interest and habit of going to the remotest villages, neglected areas and slums and can reach out to the hearts of poor and common people, know the context and reality which are necessary to learn to develop the curriculum of a state. No government officials of any department have such depth in this regard.
However, all NGOs don’t have that capacity, nor do all the NGOs work in the education sector either. When these kinds of NGOs are employed to develop a national curriculum, that definitely talks about a thing that cannot be accepted. NGOs like Plan Bangladesh and Tiktalik don’t have any experience to write or review on national curriculum. BRAC Education Models are known at home and abroad and the UNO has requested BRAC to replicate these models in some Asian and African countries and BRAC has successfully been implementing these models in those countries. Still, I will say that the national curriculum should not be made as per the prescription of NGOs. When NGOs like Tiktalik get such kinds of opportunities, curriculum may see miserable consequences.
NCTB should be a fully autonomous institution so it need not depend on the ministry for every single decision as it happens now. However, the chairman of NCTB should be chosen from gigantic national figures in the field of education on whom the nation can trust. A ‘national search committee’ can find out such a figure for the position of NCTB Chairman. We must remember that the position of NCTB Chairman is quite different from the heads of other institutions who are posted on political considerations and posted for three or four years. It should be for a minimum of eight to ten years to see the full circle of introducing and implementing a curriculum. Examples can be given that personalities and educationists like Zafar Iqbal sir, Abdullah Abu Sayeed sir, Professor Manjurul Islam sir should be the chairman of NCTB. We know producing such kinds of personalities is not an easy task. Still, the society, institutions and the nation as a whole should take the initiative to produce such kinds of educationists in the country. We can depend on the stature of such kinds of personalities to develop a national curriculum under their direct guidance. The current tradition to select the chairman of NCTB must be avoided to maintain neutrality or freedom from nepotism and selfishness and to choose really suitable candidate for this prestigious and valuable national institution. We don’t want NCTB to be dominated by the ministry. However, if there lies no control of the ministry over the NCTB, the anomalies that have been cited in the above paragraphs will not happen. More can be mentioned. We have come to learn that one Biology teacher has been given responsibility to coordinate English curriculum development. We don’t want such a type of autonomy as well.
Infamous private universities and English medium teachers have been included in the curriculum writing panel leaving the trained SESIP officials. We know English medium education is more creative and its teachers also but their selection has not been made on the basis of any sound policy and suitable teachers have not been invited to review and write curriculum that calls for decision makers’ judicious consideration and attention.
The writer is an education expert working in BRAC Education and is the President of English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh (ETAB)