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Where is our education headed?

  • Published at 06:02 pm October 30th, 2019
Students in a classroom at a primary school in Bandarban Dhaka Tribune

Most of the investment goes towards infrastructure, not quality

Internationally, there are too many conflicting indices that evaluate a country’s education system to provide a truly neutral view about any given example.

For instance, while the systems in the UK and the US rank as the best in the world, Canada rules the roost in terms of “quality” education. That alone puts the cat among the pigeons.

There are just too many elements in the mix.

Bangladesh ranks 17th in a list of 234 for literacy rate, not surprising given that Africa and other smaller nations are in the mix, and that graduation is so easy to achieve. That there are big holes in primary and secondary education has been highlighted by the debacle faced in university entry exams, especially Dhaka University. 

That is further exacerbated by the increasing number of allegations of false doctorate degrees and erroneous script-marking.

Nor is it helped by the growing number of schools fast becoming dependent on government MPO listing to pay teachers. Five years ago, junior primary teachers were promised equilibrium in pay with their senior colleagues. That hasn’t happened, and with less than three weeks to go till exams, they have threatened to go on strike.

In the midst of all this comes the news that Bhutan -- the tiny country with its tiny population, has taken steps to make teachers and medical staff the most highly paid among civil servants. This is a must have, even though teachers throughout the world are essentially nowhere near the top in terms of pay scales, and sadly so. 

Creating an educated generation requires the finest and most talented minds to impart it, and we are in a situation where teachers can barely make ends meet, resulting in the mushrooming of coaching centres and the lack of standards in institutions.

It is a generalization that is fast becoming unmanageable.

Overnight, it would be impossible to attract the best talent towards teaching, especially given the penchant towards considering the best students to be the best teachers, which they most certainly aren’t. The issue isn’t helped by a system that is focused on degrees and certificates rather than knowledge, and out of step with time and its needs. Our education system lacks the dynamism to evolve with the demands of today’s world, and indeed it fails to anticipate those of tomorrow. 

The growing divide between schools that add value to the national curriculum versus those that can barely keep in tow is growing alarmingly. So much so that instructions have to be given to schools to teach English in English rather than provide a Bangla version of English. Without the proper environment for students, especially in rural and suburban areas, it is difficult to see how such instructions can be carried out. 

The education boards are skirting the issue of teachers having to take classes in subjects they are not qualified for, and English and Math are two sore thumbs.

Much of these inadequacies are masked by the sheer number of youngsters the country has, thereby allowing for more to get by graduation at the cost of a drop in standards. Most of the investment in education, always one of the highest allocated for in national budgets, goes towards infrastructure rather than quality -- especially teacher training. There’s also little incentive for the best talent to go to urban schools not just for monetary reasons, but rather conducive environments.

The Ministry of Education faces an uphill battle in ensuring and retaining enrolment in the absence of value seen by parents and guardians that are yet to be convinced about the true value of education. This is in spite of the efforts of countless NGOs at work in the field. They too could do with a shake-up as they suffer from the same rural phobia. 

Dropping standards to prevent the axe from MPO, unless a certain percentage of students meet the grades required, won’t lead to an enlightened state. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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