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     Volume 7 Issue 24 | June 13, 2008 |

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The Dropout Dilemma

Elita Karim

As the Secondary School Certificate examinees file out of their respective centres on the last day of the SSC exams, the Higher Secondary Certificate examinees get ready to take up the challenge in May 2008. Thanks to the many positive steps taken in the field of education over the past few years, hundreds more appear for the HSC exams each year than the previous ones. This year, as well, more than 6 lakh students have registered for the ongoing HSC exams, as opposed to more than 5 lakh students in 2007. The number of female students has also increased in the rural areas, mainly because of the government's provision of free education for female students till the 12th grade. In fact, according to the law, government schools and colleges even go to the extent of providing all the students with free textbooks. Some schools even provide food to the children as an incentive to continue with their education.

In spite of all the provisions taken by the state to ensure that education is given the highest possible priority by the students and their families, many students drop out at the very last minute, hence fail to complete the basic high school degree. This year, for instance, only 23 percent of the students, who had registered for the HSC exams in the 11th grade, have dropped out of their respective schools and colleges. According to reports, this year the dropout rate is the highest under the technical board, which is around 41.4 percent. Out of the seven education boards in the country, Barisal has the highest dropout rate where as, under the Dhaka Board, Shariatpur has the highest number of kids who have dropped out of high school / college.

Even though students end up not appearing for the HSC exams because of failure in the pre-HSC exams, popularly known as 'test' exams held in institutions all over the country, one of the major causes of the increasing drop out rate every year is that families simply cannot afford the educational expenses. Thanks to the continuing skyrocketing prices of essentials in the country, most families belonging to low-income groups end up sacrificing their children's education, not to mention the proper amount of nutrition that the kids require as well. On the other hand, the purchasing power of the general people have reduced in the last few years, while different types of fees have shot up along with the prices of education materials.

A very common trend seen mostly amongst students in Bangladesh is investing a good amount of money in private classes or tuition, other than the regular classes at school and college. A culture, which originated to help out students weak in particular subjects, the trend has evolved to such an extent that all students today are completely dependent on these private coaching centres and classes. According to a schoolteacher of a girls' school located in Moghbazaar, every student is expected to have a private teacher at home by default from a very early age. "Otherwise, it is very difficult to explain to so many children in one class at the same time," she explains.

It has become a vicious circle. The popular culture of private tuition has resulted in schoolteachers becoming laid-back and sloppy in their instructions. Low salaries of teachers do not help and only make private tuition a good source of extra income. Students, in turn end up depending on private tuition since schools fail to provide a proper and complete education in classes. This is also why most families have to spend huge amounts of extra cash to help their children. According to a survey conducted by the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), titled Education Watch Report 2006, at least 88 percent of the students belonging to government institutions and 78 percent of students belonging to non-government institutions in urban areas have private tutors or go to coaching centres. The survey says that parents end up spending at least Tk 16,894 annually on a child's private tuition alone.

"According to the law, government institutions are not supposed to take any type of fess from students," says Chairperson of the Dhaka Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, Prof Manirul Islam. "Starting from free textbooks to the payment of registration fees, the schools and colleges are supposed to contact the board and arrange these necessities and requirements for their students respectively. The institutions fail to do so, thus increasing the financial burdens of the students. We are getting hold of these institutions slowly." Other than financial reasons and poor results in the 'test' exams, girls getting married, the age-old fear of learning and using English, forging registration, going abroad, involvement in politics and in some cases students' apathy are also some of the reasons behind the drop outs.

The education board and the schools themselves can take steps to eliminate the social ill of early marriage by campaigning against their young female students being married off before completing their Higher Secondary Certificate examinations; in any case the law forbids a girl to marry before the age of 18.

Today, many education systems around the world emphasise on the 12th grade results, in terms of university admissions and job applications. In our part of the world, however, even today, many students and their families are satisfied with merely an SSC certificate, granted upon completing the 10th grade. This occurs especially with boys who are in a hurry to take up a job or with young girls who are married off early. Emphasis should be given to the HSC examinations and results so that all the students will not think twice about completing the basic high school education. This is possible if a student is made to go through 12 years of schooling and then appearing for a competitive exam, instead of taking a pause in class 10. According to Prof Islam, a similar policy had been suggested at one time. However, nothing much was done about it and was eventually forgotten amidst the shifting ruling political parties during the last few years.

It is high time that the general system of basic education changed in the country, from having young students parrot lessons every night to actually comprehending what they are being taught. The system should be strong enough to have students depend on schoolteachers and not private tutors to pass exams. Otherwise, it would very much reflect Ralph Waldo Emerson's thoughts regarding education, "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."

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