The gap between spending public education resources for the richest segment of society and that for the poorest one has evoked concern in a study by the UNICEF recently. Looking at 42 countries it finds that allocation to education for children from the richest 20 per cent of households is double the amount spent on the poorest 20 per cent of households. As for Bangladesh, reportedly public education expenditure going to children from the poorest and the highest-earning households stood at 15 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. The implications are self-evident: First, the school dropout rate of students coming from the richest households is lower in the country than from the poorest social segments. This disparity has a lot to do with the policies skewed towards the richer class. Secondly, if public education spending is disproportionately slanted against the poorest households they will have little chance of escaping poverty, learning the skills they need to compete and succeed in today's world, far less contributing to their countries' economies. Last but not least, the asymmetry in education spending is an anathema to the concept of human resource development as well as to that of equal opportunities society.
The report is aptly titled "Addressing the learning crisis: An urgent need to better finance education for the poorest children" and significantly coincides with a meeting of education ministers, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The UNICEF urged world leaders to address the 'shameful' disparities in public education spending.
It is to be noted that education in Bangladesh, especially in villages, is not characterised by acute rich poor disparity, although it remains blatantly evident in the urban areas. However, the merit being intrinsic in the sons and daughters of soil, students from humble origins continue to fare exceptionally well at the exams irrespective of allocation-centric disparity. This is not to underestimate the value for balanced allocations though. The programme of distribution of free textbooks throughout schools across the country has been widely recognised as a laudable one. Arrangement of mid-day meal at village schools is another step aimed at cutting down dropout rates. Yet family poverty robs many students of their dreams to continue their studies. On the other hand, the country's success in attaining the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) regarding universal primary education enrolment rate has added to its efforts to promote school education.
Yet disparities in general are inherent in the country's child education sector. Bangladesh may not belong to the UNICEF-listed countries beset with perennially disproportionate public fund allocation in the child education sector; as it can take pride in its list of achievements. The study report has rightly noted that lack of resources available for the 'poorest' children is aggravating a crippling learning crisis, as schools fail to provide quality education for their students. The day is not far off when the UN Children's Fund will feel convinced to include Bangladesh in the group of top child education-friendly developing nations.
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