The Financial Express

The proposed new education policy - a critique

| Updated: October 19, 2017 14:38:17

The proposed new education policy - a critique
A report in the Dhaka dailies on the proposed New Education Policy (NEP) has attracted the attention of many including this writer. It said the government is in the process of introducing a NEP (a process that started in 2012) and the draft is ready. That is of course very good news, notwithstanding the fact that it also made many aware that 45 years into its journey as an independent state, the country did not either have an Education Policy or if there was one, it was outdated. 
The news report was also inspiring because the lead ministry in this context, the Ministry of Education, underlined its democratic spirit. It placed the draft of the NEP on its website for the public to come forward with suggestions and amendments to the draft policy so that the one to be eventually adopted would have the approval of the people. Therefore, the news that the country would soon have a NEP came as a great one and the Education Ministry must be felicitated warmly for its initiative however belated.
However, there are proposals in the NEP that have raised many eyebrows. One such proposal is the one that not just bans private tutoring and coaching centres/institutions for students but also proposes to punish violators with jail sentences and hefty fines. Another proposal in the NEP proposes to prohibit guidebooks on texts taught and followed at the primary and secondary levels. The NEP will also punish those who write or publish notebooks to make it easy for students to understand and follow textbooks. 
These punitive measures, if adopted in the NEP, will make it an exceptional education policy without parallel either in our region or elsewhere. To many as for instance this writer, these exceptional proposals have not been wisely made by the Ministry of Education because by so doing, it has exposed the state of education being provided in the country at the primary and secondary levels. 
For one, this has exposed that in the schools, the education provided by the teachers is so unsatisfactory that parents of students are forced to employ private tutors or send their children to coaching centres in such numbers (almost 100 per cent) and hence these punitive provisions in the NEP.
In the pre-Bangladesh days, there were private tutors as well as coaching centres. There were also guides to textbooks. Those days though those who sought the help of the private tutors and coaching centres were the slow learners or those academically deficient. Otherwise, the teachers in the schools were good enough to guide the students to achieve their highest academic excellence. In fact, the teachers took extra care of the exceptional students and provided them additional help so that they would stand out and bring good name to their schools. As for the made-easy books of the texts and guides to these texts, the good students did not need any of these because the teachers in the schools provided better guide and assistance and only the average to below average took the assistance of these guides and made-easy to texts.
Following independence, the government took much more responsibility in the education sector than it could handle. The ratio in schools between teachers and students became unrealistic and parents soon found out that if they depended just upon the schools, their children would simply sit through their years in schools and waste their time. As parents realised that, the teachers took full advantage and turned low scale private tutoring in the pre-independence period to full-scale business where in the course of time, no one was not being tutored privately stood any chance of doing well in their exams. In fact, a nexus of evil soon developed between teachers involved in private tutoring business and the system of examinations in public schools leaving parents with no options other than hire private tutors or take help of coaching centres. Most of these private tutors were, of course, teachers who were supposed to be ensuring that except the small percentage of deficient students, the overwhelming majority did not need to seek tutoring outside the schools.
The problem that the Ministry of Education is now trying to solve by jail sentences, financial punishments, and other threats is therefore basically the outcome of many factors that governments one after another since independence either failed to understand or, more correctly, went into denial. As the government nationalised innumerable schools, it never seriously considered that it would also require increasing the number of teachers proportionately and pay them well. As a consequence, the teacher/student ratio over the years became untenable for quality education. In the primary schools, according to World Bank Report, the ratio was 1:40 in 2011 that has since worsened. The stat puts Bangladesh in the company of countries in the lowest scale of development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The governments have also been in denial of the deteriorating quality of education in government schools barring very few. Private schools sprung up like mushrooms particularly in the cities that took some care of providing quality education with a better teacher:student ratio; better quality and better-paid teachers but only for a while. Then both the public and private schools found the task of providing quality education outside their abilities that created the perfect environment for commercialising primary and secondary education both in private and public schools through private tuition and coaching centres. 
The teachers with ability quickly realised the humungous market for private tuition and coaching centres. In fact, the teachers who were just going through the motions of teaching in the schools were in their elements in their private tutoring business and in the coaching centres as it made them very rich. And the students and their parents got their money's worth as these private tutors and coaching centres were helping students find their ways to universities abroad in the United States, UK, Australia, etc. and although there is no research on the subject, many of them are doing exceptionally well, so much so that they are being absorbed in the job market of those countries. 
There is another important aspect of these private tutoring and coaching centres that were not considered in the NEP. These days it is not just the affluent section that is sending their children for private tutoring. Even the less affluent are now entrapped in this business as the truth today is if students are left to schools for their education, that would be as good as receiving no education. To that is the other fact that private tutoring has become a source of employment of many students from low-income families who pay their exorbitant fees in private universities from private tutoring. 
The NEP will thus destroy the only remaining opportunity for students, particularly in the secondary level, to get quality education which allows them to move to the outside world and compete. Having destroyed almost totally the ability of schools to provide quality education, the Education Ministry seems in a hurry to ensure that students do not get help privately from tutors and coaching centres that eventually would put at stake the hopes of thousands of students who dream of pursuing higher studies abroad. At the same time, the NEP seems also in a hurry to take away the hopes of those who are private tutors not by choice but to pay the exorbitant fees in the private universities.
Finally, the proposal of prohibiting text guides makes the NEP a weird policy, to say the least.
The writer is a retired Ambassador.

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