The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has made a decision in favour of investing US$2.0 billion in the education sector of Bangladesh for the next three years. This is welcome news for the country, as education suffered tremendously during the Covid restrictions and ADB's fiscal entry at this stage will undoubtedly help in more ways than one. Although the government has made great strides in imparting education, the sector has not been receiving its due share in budgetary allocations. More than that, most of the allocations it has been receiving have gone into infrastructure development. When one takes into account that Bangladesh ranks the lowest among South Asian nations in terms of allocation for education proportionate to GDP, the situation becomes clearer.
While ADB's involvement is of great import, it is difficult to fathom why the State has not been investing its own resources to improve the quality of education in the country. We have a massive young generation of people and in today's globalised world, with millions of our workers are going abroad to work as blue-collar workers, it makes sense to equip them with the right education. Instead of exporting blue-collar manpower, we could be sending white-collar manpower. Countries in South-East Asia like the Philippines earn many times more than Bangladesh in terms of inward remittance because their manpower includes nurses, who fall under the skilled category and hence have earnings that are significantly more than the average blue-collar workers from Bangladesh.
Looking beyond manpower export, the young people of this country could be part of the multi-billion (if not trillion) dollar global market for outsourcing. Till date our contribution to this industry has been nominal. India, took to the skies decades ago because it has some of the best IT (information technology) institutes in Asia. Those institutes are not there due to divine intervention, they have materialised and excelled because successive governments there made quality education a priority for India. The neighbouring country didn't make our mistake and has consistently invested not just in education, but also in language proficiency (English) and research. We have been independent now for half a century, and still, we continue to neglect education.
Has the time not arrived when we rethink education in our land? It will, of course, require political will at the very top to effect a massive overhaul in the education system. Educationists need to be given priority over bureaucrats, if there is to be any meaningful change. This is not simply about cents and dollars, rather it is about a change in mindset. Again, it is not only about having a revamped syllabus, but delving deeper into unlearning the way our young people are taught at institutions. If one is to have meaningful reform in the education sector, we must be willing to start with unlearning things that have not worked for us and instilling in our teachers, new technologies, new methods of teaching and new ways to communicate. Re-training teachers will always bring resistance and backlash, but without teachers equipped with the right skills, teaching methods will not change and students will not be on a par with any of its neighbours. As the world prepares itself to enter into the age of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), our primary and secondary level education system is in dire need for a major change. The choice for the State is simple. Change the system to keep up with the times, or be left in the void.