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     Volume 8 Issue 73 | June 12, 2009 |

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Standardising the System

Ershad Kamol
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.

The education sector in Bangladesh is in trouble. Education is expensive but far from being satisfactory in terms of standards. The rate of dropout of the students at the primary and secondary level is ever increasing. Students do not get quality education in the universities and face unavoidable session jams, especially in many public universities. On the other hand the secondary students are forced to do coaching, since many teachers do not concentrate in the classrooms.

Roughly three streams of education mainstream Bangla medium, English medium and Madrassah-- exist side by side in Bangladesh. However, there are many sub-streams, especially at the primary level. A study says there are 11 existing education systems at the primary level. There is a huge gap between these streams in terms of expense, standard and approach. The existence of the three different education systems are producing citizens who have no common outlook and are contributing to social fragmentation and mutual hostility.

Addressing the existing problems, during the last 38 years since the Independence of the country, so far seven education policies have been formulated, however, none of them have been properly implemented.

Educationists in the country have observed that the existing education system is backward and substandard. They demand an institutional reform in the education sector by making it more inclusive and by improving the standard in general.

The current government has already formed yet another 16 member committee headed by National Professor Kabir Chowdhury to formulate a new policy. The committee is expected to submit the policy within the next couple of months.

Based on the education policy formulated in 2000, which was a reflection of the Qudrat-e-Khuda Education Commission, the committee will incorporate other thoughts to form a global standard policy," the Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid tells The Star, "We have started to work on the education policy so that we get sufficient time to implement the policy. It's more important to execute a policy rather than just spending time for forming new policies."

The Education Ministry, in fact, is focusing on incorporating the existent policies to form a uniform policy. At the same time it is emphasising on vocational training and to take to stem the dropout rates that currently plague the system.

The Education minister admits that the standard of education has decreased, moreover, higher education is beyond the reach of the common people. "Just for money many poor children are deprived of any education. On the other hand, there are some privileged children who go to schools paying thousands of takas in tuition fees per month. Is it logical? I expect to introduce equivalent schooling system all over the country."

"All the children in the country must have the same schooling. We have to improve the standard at the main stream Bangla medium by improving curriculum and quality of teachers. At the same time the Madrassas and English medium schools in the country must incorporate more subjects on our history, language and culture," the minister adds.

Initially, this year, the ministry has made some attempts at bringing about changes in the curriculum of mainstream Bangla medium schools. "This year the confusing information in our history included in the textbooks will be changed. In the near future, we are going to update the curriculum according to recommendations made by local experts"

"Doing that we plan to emphasise on technology based education at the secondary level and improvement of the standard of the teachers. We will not do anything haphazardly. After sufficient preparation these changes will be implemented. Already a few training programmes are running to improve the quality of the schoolteachers. We will also initiate more elaborate programmes for teachers training."

The ministry is considering hiking up the salary of the teachers at all levels of the public institutions including schools, colleges and universities. Nurul Islam Nahid says, "We believe quality teachers can provide quality education. For that we have plans to increase the benefits of the teachers to attract the talented students in this profession. But we expect dedication from the teacher, since many teachers these days are interested in private coaching, teaching at private institutes and consultancy rather than concentrating on their classroom. This unethical tendency by the teachers is one of the major causes of decreeing the education standard."

Nurul Islam Nahid is also concerned about the standard of higher education in Bangladesh. According to the minister the higher education system at the public university is decreasing. On the other hand, most of the 54 existing private universities do not provide quality education, but are highly expensive.

"We are planning to increase the standard of both of public and private universities. University Grants Commission (UGC) is working on it. Within a few days discussing with the private university authorities, UGC will provide a new private university act to ensure quality education at these institutions," says the minister.

To control the 'dropout' rate, which is 42 percent at present, of the students at primary and secondary level the ministry has already taken some measures. The ministry has already announced that it will provide all the textbooks free up to the secondary level. "I've seen many students leave the schools since their parents cannot buy them books. Which is why under my initiative, we have already allotted 300 crore takas for books in the next academic year that will start in January. We are now facing problems created by the vested interested groups, who create artificial crisis of textbooks. But we are determined to overcome it."

"We will take initiatives to provide tiffin to the poor students to encourage them to come to school. We will also encourage public-private partnership to establish schools in the poverty drawn areas and in the remote areas."

The government also plans to regulate the madrassas and English medium schools operating in the country. It has already held discussions with the representatives of the Quami madrassas for registration and has briefed them the government's intention.

"Madrassa education-- both Aliya and Quami-- needs to be improved a lot so that those who study at these institutions can contribute for the development of the country. Quami Madrassas must go through registration and their syllabus must incorporate the subjects of mainstream curriculum. At the same time we will take immediate measures to improve the quality of the vocational education system."

The minister adds that there are plans to also focus on the English medium schools. At present, these schools are following a foreign syllabus. These schools are often expensive, but most of them do not provide quality education he says. "We are thinking of formulating an act focusing on the syllabus, management and others of these schools," says the minister.

Financial constraints will pose a great challenge in terms of making sure that such plans are implemented. The education sector allocation is currently about 2.3 percent of GDP and 14 percent of total government expenditure. But the amount of money is very little for a highly populated country like Bangladesh. In fact, the education sector is financially challenged and deprived.

It's true that the current government has already increased the budget allocation in this sector to give textbooks free up to secondary level and is also planning to give free tiffin to poor students. But to improve the overall quality of education according to the demand of the time requires more funds, sincerity, commitment, capacity and coordination.

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