Starting on March 13 last the Primary Education Week 2019 concluded on March 19. Such observance follows a ritualistic pattern but this time something more was expected. The expectation issues from the fact that the World Bank's World Development Report focused on education for the first time as a central theme under the heading Learning to Realise Education's Promise. More importantly, the report is critical of the world's failure to provide children with proper education. It underscores that societies fail children the most where they most need good education.
Primary schooling spanning roughly for 11 years here has been brought under the scanner and the observation is rather scathing. In 11 years children in this country learn on an average what should be learnt in just six and a half years. So, the foundation of education is weak and it is reflected in the learning in the years to come including acquisition of skills for career development. Building human capital depends on learning and acquiring skills. Thus the role of education proves crucial, more so in a world going through technological transformation at a phenomenal pace.
Schooling without learning is sheer waste of time and resources. But when far too many children do not even attend school, it is considered a moral and economic crisis, according to the World Development Report. It needs to be addressed immediately before the disparities between and among classes within a nation and nations yawn beyond repair. The pace of technological development will unmercifully progress to favour the privileged and leave the laggards reeling from its unfamiliarity.
In a situation like this, there was need for detecting the core issues and points where primary education has faltered. Under the latest education policy, primary education was supposed to be upgraded to class VIII by 2018. But this did not happen because of inefficiency, corruption and lack of sincerity. The ministry concerned was interested more in expansion of primary education to the neglect of raising its quality over the last 10 years. Almost hundred per cent enrolment of children could be achieved but without ensuring their retention in the system. So the dropout rate too negated the success in enrolment.
True, distribution of free books and a number of other measures like providing incentive for girl students have been a key to achieving gender parity at this level of education but it has been at the cost of quality. Monitoring has been grossly missing. As the World Development Report has discerned that children from the poor families learn the least because they not only do miss classes but also come to attend classes unprepared. This worldwide trend is no exception to Bangladesh. On top of this, children from poor families are also deprived of adequate food and nutrition.
For measuring learning, there is an overwhelming need for developing proper metrics. If the right metrics are there, the country can easily find where the primary education is not up to the mark. What went for a long period in the name of bringing children under primary education coverage is simply anarchy. Unemployed youths with no prospect of getting a job were given the opportunity to organise schooling facilities on their own. They somehow managed land and a roof overhead and convinced parents of children to send their wards to their schools. Thus a very poor standard of schooling began at the grassroots level. Later on, those schools in a shambles were recognised and integrated with the mainstream primary schooling system. This was suicidal. When the trained primary teachers want quality and motivation to teach students properly, these untrained and unqualified teachers only downgraded primary education further.
In fact teachers are the most important component in education. Great teachers inspire, motivate and help learn knowledge, a fraction of which poor teachers do not achieve. Sure enough infrastructure and educational implements are important but not as important as the quality of teachers. Teachers' training has remained a grey area. Officials reportedly spend more on their foreign visits than what is spent on teachers' training. Primary schools have to submit reports on school activities in a prescribed format and it takes almost the entire time of headmasters sparing them little time for taking classes or supervising their colleagues.
Now it is reported that 25,000 posts of headmasters are vacant in the country. When this is the case, the school administration concerned suffers the most. Then there are schools where there is staff shortage and it so happens that some classes are never held on a regular basis. In such cases, it is not only the poor students who are excluded but also the entire batches of a community are let down. The extent of economic and moral failure gets further accentuated for policymakers and leaders of the country.
Bangladesh must get the perspective of primary education right in the first place. With the digitisation of the country, the backward communities are likely to fall further behind unless crash programmes are taken to educate their children. The concern is not just for the overall substandard quality of primary education here but also for the lack of it among the least privileged communities. Procession and rallies on the occasion of education week are superficial, there is need for reforming education from within.
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