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     Volume 7 Issue 50 | December 26, 2008 |

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Bringing a Change with Education

Elita Karim

A couple of weeks ago, 32-year-old Dr Humayra Abedin finally emerged from her forced confinement and was flown back to the United Kingdom. The world was shocked at how an adult could be imprisoned by her own family members, merely because they wanted to solve certain 'marriage issues' with her. In spite of the developments made in the field of education for women in Bangladesh, women are still tied down by patriarchy, fearing the inevitable -- who will marry a girl adorned with a High School certificate, let alone an undergraduate or a graduate degree. The more a woman is exposed to the world of books, analysis and reasoning, the more her priorities shift from taking care of her husband's home to living a life of her own.

Recently, at a roundtable on Female Education: Achievement, Discrimination and Duties organised by ‘Daily Prothom Alo’ and Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), representatives from several organisations, namely women groups, educational institutions, organisations for the disabled and groups working for the development of education amongst the indigenous people, shared their respective studies on the field of primary and secondary education in the country and if the female students are actually being benefited.

According to the CAMPE surveys, over the last three decades or so, the literacy rate, in Bangladesh, has increased, still it has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. In early 2000, the literacy rate among adults (15+ years) had increased 64% from 51% in 1997. The number of children in the primary levels increased from 12 million in 1990 to 17.7 million in 2000, while that of female students rose from 44.7% to 48.8%. However, not even half of all children were able to complete the five years of primary education. In 2000, amongst those who had completed their primary education, less then 2% achieved all the primary school competencies. A UNDP Human Development Report (2000) says that Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 174 countries in terms of literacy rates. Access to quality and relevance of education still remain a major concern.

Presenting the keynote paper Dr Manzoor Ahmed of the Institute of Educational Development (IED) of BRAC University highlighted that enrolment of the girl child in primary education has been increased significantly while enrolment in the secondary level is 47.7 percent for males and 52.3 percent for females. Even then, a good chunk of the number of female students drops out later on in the secondary level of education. Many, even after acquiring the primary level of education, are not adept at basic reading and writing skills. One of the reasons behind the high drop out rate is because even though the government provides free education for women till Class 12, not all of them are able to put it to any use, especially in the rural areas. Hence, many parents in these areas see it as a waste of time, eventually bringing their daughters back home.

Rasheda K Choudhury, the Primary and Mass Education Advisor, remarked that even though the Primary School Registration Rules say that there should be one primary school in every village of 2000 people, there are more than 2000 villages which have no school whatsoever. “The government is trying to incorporate these villages in the second Primary Education Development Programme,” she said. “A process for a unified education programme has already begun.”

Even in the urban areas, where a large number of women are coming out of their homes everyday to join the workforce, some of the most successful women probably had to give up a whole lot to prove their abilities in the patriarchal society. At the roundtable, a researcher in the field of education shared a true story where a student of hers was preparing to get into medical college right after high school. “I was shocked to see her gone all bald one fine day!” related the researcher. “She had shaved off all her hair just to protest her father's will to marry her off to a successful businessman.”

Rasheda pointed out that the attitude has to change at home and only then can the government leap further. Parents have to build up the confidence within so that they can defend their children from the hegemonies in the society. This is especially needed for disabled children. “Structural development has been made mandatory in every new primary school to accommodate children with physical disabilities,” she says. “But at the end of the day, it's the parents of regular school-going children, who oppose the admission of children from poor communities, as children of cleaners or even children with physical disabilities in ordinary schools.”

The speakers at the session also spoke about the need for improvement of vocational education to reduce the drop out rates at school. If there is no work available after completing one's education, parents would be all the more discouraged to send their daughters to school. Vocational schools would at least provide the students with skill-development sessions, hence strengthening generations of work force. There is also a need for active union parishad standing committees and teachers-parents committees, change in school curriculum, making it mandatory for women to have completed the SSC examination to be eligible to get married and a unified education system in order to make education best effective in the country. They also pointed out that the two main political parties in the country have not specified strategies for expansion of quality female education in their party manifestos.

Changing the mentality of the society is probably as good as trying to move mountains. Since, positive changes must begin at home, parents and family members must view their children, sons and daughters alike, as the builders of a society portraying strength and values. As the Queen in Rokheya Hossein's 'Sultana's Dream' had remarked to her subjects, “If you cannot save your country for lack of physical strength try to do so by brain power.”



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