Although Bangladesh has achieved significant progress in primary education in terms of enrolment of the students and free distribution of books across the country, the present scenario of primary education is not up to our expectations.
When it comes to ensuring quality basic education for all at primary level, we are still lagging behind. I would like to focus on some specific issues which need to be addressed by the government immediately if we really want to make quality primary education accessible to all, and ensure retention of children at schools across the country.
Discriminatory system at primary level
The existing system creates discrimination among the students at primary schools, although ensuring uniform primary education is our constitutional pledge. Article 17 of our constitution clearly declares that the state should ensure a “uniform, mass-oriented, and universal” system of education. But have we been able to ensure uniform education for all? We all know that we have various types of education at primary level such as Bangla medium, English version, English medium, kindergarten, and madrasa, and there is no uniformity among the existing systems. For example, students who attend Bangla medium schools get an education which hardly matches education of madrasas.
Exorbitant tuition fees at non-government schools
High tuition fees has recently been a burning issue. Many schools, especially in Dhaka city or other metropolitan cities, hiked tuition fees including admission from this January. The unusual hike made guardians/parents take to the streets. Many guardians from Dhaka and Chittagong protested this decision, and demanded the withdrawal of excessive fees. Later, the Ministry of Education issued an order asking the school authorities to limit this hike to not more than 25% of the existing tuition fees. But we doubt whether the school authorities are complying with this order or not. If this chaos goes on, the academic environment will be disrupted, and the gap between the schools and parents will be further widening.
Excessive burden of books
Students, especially at non-government primary schools, have to carry backpacks laden with plenty of books. According to the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, school authorities cannot force students to buy extra books which are not approved by the NCTB. But unfortunately, the government does not have any control over the illegal practice. Are the school authorities more powerful than the government? How can they keep defying the government rule, which was made in 1983? Is not it pertinent to ask this question to the Ministry of Education? We know that recently, the apex court of India has given a bold directive as to the highest weight of backpack a primary school-going student can carry. I wonder why we, the parents, keep silent in this regard.
Lack of trained teachers
There is a dearth of trained teachers at the primary level. Although the government has taken some initiatives in this regard, not all the teachers have come under the training program. At present, the problem also lies in the English version, because the teachers who teach the English version students do not get specific (subject-wise) training from the Directorate of Primary Education. The government seems not to give proper attention to this problem.
Ineffective creative method
According to a recent survey conducted by Research for Advancement of Complete Education (RACE), more than half of 100 primary school teachers who took part in a survey are still unclear about creative education method introduced about five years back. Even more alarming is that about half of the teachers (47%) surveyed rely on guidebooks to prepare lessons, while 92% students take the help of guidebooks to understand their lessons. The findings of the report, titled “Ambiguity in understanding among teachers and students render creative method ineffectiveness -- a study on primary school in Bangladesh,” also reveal that our students are failing to comprehend what they are being taught in school.
Corruption and coaching business
Corruption in the education sector is a menace to ensuring quality education at the primary level. Some of the school management committees resort to money-making motives. Some teachers do not teach properly in classrooms, and they force the students to come to their coaching centres. We, the parents, seem to be very keen to send our children to those centres. We also think that achieving a GPA 5 is the main goal. The obligation of sitting for redundant public exams -- the PSC and JSC -- is the root cause of the mushroom growth of coaching centres.
Poor pay for teachers
It is very unfortunate that primary school teachers are ill-paid. They do not get proper respect from society. Because teachers do not get good salary, most of them are compelled to depend on the coaching business. Since the independence of Bangladesh, no government has taken any positive initiative to offer decent remuneration to primary school teachers who are the real nation-builders.
And due to the poor pay, meritorious students do not come to this profession. In conclusion, I would like to put forward some recommendations which could help the policy makers or the government to work on formulating a uniform education curriculum for all at the primary level.
The government should do the following things:
Take proper steps for approving the Right to Education law as per the commitment of the Education Policy 2010. Revamp the whole education system to ensure uniform quality education for all up to class-Eight as per the Education Policy 2010.
Make a strict guideline for the schools to follow the approved chart of tuition fees. Make a comprehensive school mapping to ensure equal access to primary education for all. Take more effective initiatives to train the teachers for Bangla medium, English version and madrasa.
Enact a tougher law to stop schools from imposing extra books on the students at primary level.
Make sure the creative education methods are properly implemented and practiced at schools. Enact a strict law to stop the coaching businesses.
Revise the formation of school management committees which will necessarily comprise of some educationists (from all unions, upazilas, districts, divisions and metropolitan cities) as chairpersons of the governing bodies. Immediately form an independent pay commission for the teachers at all levels.
Ensure quality primary education which must align with 1990 Education Act and National Education Policy 2010. Take strong action against the corrupt individuals who are involved in primary level education.