The dismal passing rate of rural secondary schools in the 2016 SSC and equivalent exam results may not surprise many. The overall education scenario in our villages has for ages been below par compared to that in the urban areas. To our shock, knowing fully well that the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations play a vital role in the students' lives, these schools remained least bothered. The reasons are not that elusive to identify. Education experts have already pointed the finger at the dearth of capable and trained teachers. Fed on the government's periodic generous financial incentives and infrastructure-related fillips, these rural secondary schools were expected to come up as ideal institutions. That has not happened.
It's ironical to note that the schools have begun performing lackadaisically despite the government's enhanced investments in the education sector. The continually rising allocations for the country's schools include the government programme of distributing free textbooks among students. It has obviously relieved parents, especially in villages, of big financial burdens used to be borne by them on the purchase of books. With these stimulus put together, results of the SSC exams had reasonably been viewed to be coming better than in the past. For a few years in the recent past the performance of village-based SSC candidates exuded hope and confidence. Impressive grade point average (GPA) ratings led to a spectacle which was expressly euphoric. To our great dismay, it proved short-lived. Nearly all the schools slipped into their earlier cocoons of inertia and weariness. Meanwhile, education experts and economists detected something gone awry in the massive project to overhaul the sector. Huge sums of public money were feared to be going down the drain.
The increased financial and infrastructural supports notwithstanding, the rural secondary schools are plagued with a number of deep-seated maladies. Most of these schools hardly see skilled and qualified persons on the teaching staff. Those who remain in the lofty task of imparting lessons to students are normally found more interested in extra-curricular matters. Career-related strategies, including promotion and pay-hike, eat away at their valuable schedules assigned for teaching. However, infrastructural shortcomings also keep besetting the schools. Essential gadgets, like those of information and communication technology (ICT), are virtual chimera to many students. They comprise the ill-starred students remaining dumped into outlying schools.
This year's performance of the rural secondary schools in the SSC and equivalent exams once again points to a grim truth: the recent spurt in better performances of these institutions in the school final examinations was just a mirage. The bitter fact has been evident in the poor results of this vital examination for three consecutive years later at most of the schools in rural areas. That the level of secondary education at our village schools has lately slid to a miserable low is plain fact. It should prompt the policy makers to give an incisive rethink to our rural education sector. The developments are both depressing and worrying.
The grim statistics in an FE report on May 15 drives the point home. It has said the percentage of pass in the 2016 SSC and equivalent exams in the country's rural schools was less than 50 per cent. The national average pass percentage was 88.29. Almost the same picture was seen last year, when this pass percentage was also less than 50 per cent. The national pass percentage was 87.04. Upon a review of the SSC results, it has been found that majority of the students in the country fare miserably in English and Mathematics, the two most vital subjects that decide the future of students keen to build fruitful careers. The number of poorly performing schools this year was 875. It was 947 last year. These schools comprise the country's 19,684 secondary-level schools, of which 327 are nationalised.
Against the backdrop of poor performance of the students in three consecutive SSC exams, the traditional socio-economic pattern of our villages warrants focus. Given the economic hardship chronically facing the village people, the rural students are generally found deprived of the opportunities enjoyed by those in cities and towns. The urban students are groomed on lots of educational privileges. These include private tuition, access to school-based libraries and laboratories, and exposures on many other lesson-related areas. On the other hand, most of the village secondary schools lack these facilities. They have to make do with their capacities.
On the part of the teachers, they are failing the nation, unwittingly though. In the recent times, salaries and benefits of teachers at the rural schools have seen a considerable hike. Teachers at most of the non-government schools have been brought under the monthly payment order (MPO) package. In executing this plan aimed at streamlining the teachers' salaries, the government allocated Tk 80.56 billion in the outgoing budget for FY 2015-16. Along with it, the budget earmarked Tk 9.79 billion for the Education Engineering Department, which is in charge of the construction of school buildings. To speak in a nutshell, in the national budget for fiscal Year (FY) 2015-16 the government allocation for the Ministry of Education came to Tk 171.14 billion. The amount was higher by Tk 9.07 billion than the allocation of Tk 162.07 billion in the budget for FY 2014-15. In the outgoing budget, Tk 3.91 billion went to secondary schools.
With these boosts in place, the teachers were expected to remarkably improve their job of imparting lessons to their students. Unfortunately, the situation remained stuck in the old, hackneyed ways. In fact, it is impractical to await a radical change in time-worn teaching methods. The wise step would be recruitment of qualified teachers. Skilled teachers are not readily available. In that case, provisions for on-the-job training can cut the deficiencies. This is what experts have homed in on while commenting on the SSC and the equivalent exams' results this year. The education system has lately been overwhelmed by red tape and politicking, leading to a fall in its overall governance, said one. An expert observed that increasing investments in the schools was not enough. He stressed the establishment of better and sufficiently equipped schools in the rural areas. As the experts have viewed it, the whole education administration ought to be decentralised to facilitate the operation of village schools.
If the rural schools are allowed to get away with their poor performances in the SSC exams, it may eventually have a debilitating impact on the country's post-school education. We have to keep in mind that a great number of the students who later enrol in urban colleges and universities come from these low-tier institutions. Like the school final tests in the other countries, SSC exams in Bangladesh is recognised as the first major hurdle before students willing to pursue further studies. Serious students must go through it, and successfully at that. Due to its being the first important examination in the students' lives, success in it opens before them a vast horizon replete with myriad types of opportunities. Even for those unable to take themselves to further studies, the SSC passing itself is a formal proof of their certain skills. This exam has long been playing a critical role in building the country's skilled manpower.
Owing to the nation's being focused on raising the number of its literate and educated people it cannot trifle with its rural schools. Nor can it deal with the village-based secondary school students sloppily. How can we forget that a good number of our illustrious persons have attended secondary schools in villages? The trend may not have changed much.
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