Have coaching centres or private tuition become inseparable from education in Bangladesh? If not, then why are they so deeply entrenched? Despite the government’s pledge to outlaw the practice, the informal form of education continues to dominate the lives of students.
The Education Act 2016 proposed a ban on all coaching centres and private tuition. But while experts rail against the culture of coaching centres, the circumstances which have made them such a dominant force need to be addressed.
So what are the problems?
An education system which struggles with creativity, a classroom where grades supersede learning, the commercialisation of education, teachers with different priorities, toothless government punitive measures, and a generation of students and parents rendered helpless by the preceding problems. Each of them are nearly equally responsible in making coaching centres an inextricable part of our education system.
What experts have to say
According to Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury, informal education outside the classroom manifests only when formal education inside a classroom fails. He said: “The growth of coaching centres indicates the failure of our national education system. Now more than ever, it is about results than actual learning.”
He went on to criticise teachers who have patronised coaching centres as a source of supplementary income.
“We need to immediately reform the faults that currently exist in our education system to ensure quality education for future generations. Results are more important to secure jobs in our society. It appears education is now just a commodity that teachers are selling which students and their parents are buying,” Prof Serajul said.
He continued: “Those who are qualified to be effective teachers do not want to teach because of the low pay and social status.”
Prof Dr SM Wahiduzzaman, chief of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE), said the lack of appeal of classroom education was a key reason for their unpopularity.
He said: “Students and guardians have grown to be more dependent on coaching centres because teachers fail to teach in classroom in a productive manner.”
“Coaching centres patronise a culture of destruction of student creativity and enthusiasm. Their reach is far and wide, and it does not bode well for education,” educationalist Shyamoli Nasreen Chowdhury said.
Creative questions, destructive symptoms
The government introduced “creative questions” in the secondary level to evaluate how creative students are. The initiative was designed to eliminate the culture of memorising information and cheating. But a government survey later discovered that 34.5% of students fail to understand creative questions.
According to the Impact Assessment Survey Report on Secondary Education Sector Development Project (SESDP) released by the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under the Planning Ministry, 59.8% students think they require private tuition to understand creative questions properly while 40.2% students felt otherwise.
Another report by the DSHE said that over 50% teachers were unable to prepare creative questions for their students. Another 30.89% of them required support from their colleagues to prepare the questions, and 21.17%outsourced the creative questions.
Prof Serajul said: “The creative questions system has no connection to the texts students had to study. It is harmful for the education system. Neither students nor teachers have a clear idea of what creative questions mean. This has created a dependence on coaching centres and guide books. Those who encouraged it should be held accountable,” Prof Serajul concluded.
The DSHE chief denied any problems over creative questions, saying: “Whenever innovation is introduced, there will always be people who say the previous method was better.
“It is difficult to prepare questions and evaluate answers creatively, hence teachers often depend on readymade questions. But we are working to change things,” he added hastily.
In spite of government steps to raise public school teacher salaries, teachers in the private sector remain woefully underpaid. Hence, many of them gravitate towards supplementary income sources.
The National Pay Scale 2015 stipulates an assistant teacher in a government high schools gets paid under the 10th grade with a basic salary of Tk16,000, with an additional 45% house rent, and Tk1,500 as medical allowance.
While well-established schools in Dhaka start off their teachers with Tk8,000 to Tk10,000, many others start scraping with Tk1,500 or even less, said Nusrat Jahan Elora, a schoolteacher from Banasree.
Experts and teachers claimed that the disparity of payment between public school teachers and private school teachers was driving the latter to get into the coaching business.
“Some teachers often compare themselves to bureaucrats or well-paid professionals. In order to keep up with the high cost of living, earning money becomes their top priority,” a Notre Dame College teacher told the Dhaka Tribune.
The government’s “Policy 2012” guideline – designed to restrain the coaching industry – has been ineffective. It stipulated that teachers can provide services at their residence to a maximum of 10 students belonging to other institutions, but only after the teacher’s school and the student’s school authorised it.
They can also take supplementary classes at schools in exchange for a fee determined by the Ministry of Education.
But the regulatory measure has been widely ignored in favour of the lucrative business model.
Farhad, a math teacher, rents a flat in Uttara to teach around 300 students in batches of 50 per day. Every student pays Tk1,500 per month, rounding up to Tk4.5 lakh.
He denied the allegations, saying: “Not all students have the same aptitude for learning. Some require private tutoring. But after the government’s directive, many teachers like me have stopped providing tuitions.”
The Anti-Corruption Commission has recently found 97 teachers, from eight schools and colleges, running coaching centres in violation of the government policy, and requested the Cabinet Division to take action against them.
There is a growing belief that formal education is no longer able to provide quality education.
Murtaza Aman, founder of Vertex Academic and Admission Care in Uttara, said: “Coaching centers would not be necessary if mainstream education could provide quality education. Apart from inefficient teachers, they get little time to teach and provide feedback.”
He again said: “When parents have to pay Tk5,000 for each subject to a house tutors, coaching centers like us offer all subjects for Tk3000 only and therefore, parents find coaching centers cost effective for their children’s education.”
Students who are taking lessons from coaching centers said as the intermediate syllabus was vast and time was relatively short to cover it within the deadline, they require additional teaching for some particular subjects.
A hostage situation
Many students and their parents have a common allegations against some teachers. Often, a teacher invites a student to join their coaching for “after-school feedback.” If the offer is turned down, that student begins to receive lower grades inside the classroom.
A concerned parent complained: “They teach nothing in those supplementary classes, but we have to pay nonetheless. If we do not, exam scripts start taking hits.
She further said students hardly achieve anything from the school or college teachers’ private tutoring as 80-100 students are taught in each batch.
Murtaza said: “We have found many students with brilliant scores in school, but they scored very poorly in our tests because of their weak basic knowledge.”
In spite of the formal classroom education, and despite the informal coaching classes, students still have to resort to private tuitions before the exam, underlining the plight of our education system.