The Monthly Payment Order (MPO) for non-government educational institutions has been making headlines in newspapers for sometime now. Sit-in demonstration of teachers has grown into a regular sight in front of the Jatyio Press Club demanding inclusion of their institutions under the scheme. Finally, their unrelenting effort to bring home their demand has resulted in what they were after. Late last week, the Prime Minister told parliament that the government would soon take up a scheme to bring more non-government educational institutions under MPO coverage.
The announcement of the PM has, no doubt, dispelled doubts about bringing in more institutions under the scheme during the tenure of the government. There are quarters in the government which are not well disposed of towards the way MPO coverage is being expanded over the years. It is notable that none other than the Finance Minister is critical about the manner in which the MPO scheme is operated. He has been reported as saying time again that MPO mechanism is not a good method to address financial hardship of the educational institutions, and that the system has loopholes without plugging which the huge amounts spent on inclusion of schools, colleges and madrashas result in no meaningful purpose in the long run. Concerned quarters in the civil society, too, believe that dishing out money for removing financial crisis of the institutions is not paired with well defined policies which only can ensure that the money is well spent.
Growth of private educational institutions in the country is overwhelmingly demand-driven. This has led to their increasing numbers-- often without any visible prospect to sustain the expenses, especially the salary of teachers and other staff members. In the absence of any effective revenue-generation mechanism, with very little coming from students' tuition fees, it is teachers and staff members who are to suffer most. The fall-out, among others, is poor standard of education. There are instances where teachers in many of these institutions do not get their salary for months.
Facilitating teachers financially is no doubt a precondition for facilitating the education system at large. The private educational institutions that have grown all over the country, mostly in rural and semi-rural locations, were meant to complement government's efforts to reach education to the masses. While some of these institutions are doing a good job, the fact remains that the way most of these institutions-- schools and madrashas, in particular-- are run, falls short of the required standards. Teachers' recruitment is often blamed for this, as these institutions can barely manage to recruit qualified teachers who are a rare species themselves.
Now that the government considers bringing a large number of private institutions under the MPO scheme -- the much sought-after financing tool that provides for full payment of teachers' basic salary by the government -- the important issue that must not be compromised is the academic qualification of teachers. The changes in the curriculum in the recent years require competence of teachers as the most crucial factor to make education meaningful.
Currently, 26340 schools, colleges and madrashas receive MPO, and the number of teachers is around four hundred thousand. The institutions not listed for MPO are well over 5,000 with a pool of, reportedly, eighty thousand teachers. It would take more than TK 24 billion a year to include this large number of institutions in the MPO scheme. Money, however, should not hold up the process, but dishing out this huge amount must ensure quality teaching. If this can be done, the spending can be justified as worth the purpose. It may be recalled that the Awami League government in its first term had revived the MPO scheme -- suspended during the previous government -- as part of its electoral pledges. A total of 1,624 secondary and higher secondary private schools, madrashas and colleges were then included in the MPO. According to reports, a good number of those institutions are not up to the mark, some too far away from bare minimum standards.
Given the situation, it needs to be stressed that blanket coverage of all non-MPO institutions and the teachers serving there should not be the policy of the government. There has to be a mechanism, indeed a strict one, through which screening of teachers can be done as regards their qualifications and other necessary credentials. Otherwise, it would be sheer populism that the country cannot afford at the expense of education.
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