The entire foundation of the education system right from primary stage to tertiary stage is reliant on how qualified teachers groom children at the beginning of their lives. If the foundation is made of jute sticks or bamboos, a multi-storied building is sure to crumble as the Rana Plaza did.
Although there has been justified clamour for raising budgetary allocations for education in the 2016-17 budget as adequate funds are needed to put the education sector on the right track, such funds-all taxpayers' money-must be put to productive use. Unless quality human resources, developed through an education policy that takes stock of quality, not quantity, Bangladesh will continue to grope in the dark for real development. Scarce resources will simply go down the drain. Certainly, the government, educationists, parents and other stakeholders do not want such draining.
While quality improvement in secondary, higher secondary and tertiary levels is crucial, priority must be given to the primary level where children are supposed to be exposed to a new world of literacy. Such a need is very pressing but the process is delicate in view of the fact that toddlers need to be taught with the care of mothers. But how is it being done today?
In terms of numbers, Bangladesh has surely made a big jump in primary education. Almost 100 percent enrollment has been ensured at the primary level by developing and expanding infrastructure, appointing adequate number of teachers and providing free books. But how far there has been managerial excellence in primary education administration is in doubt.
Dhaka University Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique is right when he says, "A state stands on its education system and the whole education system stands on primary education. So, the authorities concerned should have to concentrate on improving primary education first."
He has suggestions to offer. Laying emphasis on primary education, the VC said education from class one to eight should be made scientific, unitary and integrated so that all the children could be made equally competent and good citizens through unitrack education system. All schools and madrasas should be run under a single core curriculum, he said.
Finance minister AMA Muhith, while presenting the 2015-16 budget, had lamented failure to make not much progress in secondary level education for a long time. He said, firstly, many students drop out after primary education. Secondly, there is scarcity of qualified teachers at the secondary level. Thirdly, the quality of education is quite low at this level. But he has missed the point: grooming children at the primary level.
But what's about the quality at the primary level, the most vital stage of the entire education system? Ignoring the need for giving thrust to vastly improving the quality at the beginners' stage is like constructing a building with bamboos, as it had happened not long ago right here in Bangladesh!
Although he admitted that the foundation of education is laid at the primary level, the finance minister said the government is placing special emphasis on ensuring quality primary education and planning to expand primary education up to class VIII by 2018. But what's the quality at the primary education level?
The policymakers must think about the quality of primary school teachers being recruited. Are they recruited through strict test and examination? As field-level experiences show, there has been utter neglect in this regard. The basic qualification of male teachers is a graduate degree and while females need minimum higher secondary certificates to apply for their appointment. At a time when the quality of secondary and higher secondary education is being questioned quite rightly even by the finance minister, is there any methodology through which quality of good teachers could be assessed and recruited? Today, even GPA 5 is no more a reliable tool to judge a student's merit as most of the students getting high marks cannot even pass the admission tests for university studies.
The following are vital for quality primary education:
---Curriculum, teaching methodologies and training of teachers are another important area of focus to ensure quality education.
---Coaching business must be stopped. It harms students' learning process in a school environment. It is an unhealthy practice. Parents should encourage their children to learn on their own. Achieving high grades cannot be the sole motto of education. It is more important to internalise and practice the values of what they learn in school in their lives.
---The Indian experience needs to be studied and lessons are to be learnt. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 of India has three major obligations that require adequate funding provisions, (i) recruit and deploy teachers at 30:1 ratio in every school within six months of notification; (ii) neighbourhood schools of specified quality for every child within three years; (iii) all teachers to be trained to a national norm within five years of notification.
To ensure quality education for all, the 2015-16 budget allocated Tk 316.18 billion for the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education but there is still no assessment whether the money did help improve quality education at the primary level or went down the drain.
Dr. Manzoor Ahmed, a leading expert on education, rightly said none can say for sure that the 97 per cent of students enrolled in primary education are actually getting their right to education, as they are not getting quality education fit for being responsible citizens. Most of these children don't even learn how to read and write by the time they get out of primary school. If only 25 per cent of those enrolled in schools learn how to read and write, it doesn't establish their rights.