Well-known author E.C. McKenzie, while referring to state of primary education the world over quite aptly said: "Some students drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle." His quote immediately reminds one of the state of primary education as it is today. The country has attained a unique success with 97 per cent enrolment in primary education but sadly the Education Ministry is yet to come up with a mechanism to test quality of teachers of primary schools first because the toddlers are of an age when they only open up their eyes to see the world around. They in fact form the foundation of entire education system of Bangladesh but sadly they are only made to 'gargle'.
All who are keen to see students taking up the reins of the country's leadership in the days ahead are naturally alarmed at the poor quality of their education. It might have caught the nation unaware when only 13.5 per cent students secured pass marks in the admission test of 'Ka' unit, under science group, of Dhaka University for the academic session 2016-17. Only a total of 11,330 students passed the tests among the 83,582 aspirants.
On the other hand, the number of GPA-5 scorers in the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) and equivalent exams is rising every year. Their performance in the admission tests for universities has dropped alarmingly over the last four academic sessions. Seventy per cent GPA-5 holders in 2013-14 failed to secure pass marks (48 out of 120) in the admission test for Dhaka University. The previous three sessions saw around 55 per cent, 52 per cent and 51 per cent students failing in the entry exams of the DU. Most of the admission seekers failed in Bangla and English. In the Higher Secondary Certificate exams, a GPA-5 scorer obtains 80 per cent marks in all subjects on an average. "There is a kind of grade inflation in our country. Grades don't reflect the performance of those students who achieved that particular feat," said Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam of Dhaka University on GPA-5.
It is simply futile to blame colleges for the poor performance of the HSC exams. What's about students of the secondary education? It's the same old story. One can easily imagine about the state of primary education from assessment of quality of secondary and higher secondary education. Billions of taka are being spent every year on primary, secondary and higher secondary education with low quality teachers crowding the classrooms. When teachers too are products of a rotten education system, how can one expect the GPA-5 to be worth a yardstick to assess merit of admission-seekers in universities?
Possibly concerned over low quality education at the primary stage, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education on Tuesday last strongly pleaded for setting up a separate board for improvement of quality of primary and mass education in the country. Happily, the government has reportedly drawn up a plan to introduce a separate curriculum for improvement of quality of primary education but because of the magnitude of primary education, establishment of a separate education board comprising experts and highly qualified educationists brooks no delay.
Professor Emeritus of DU Serajul Islam Chowdhury has hit the right chord when he observed that poor teaching quality is one of the major reasons behind deterioration in quality of education as the teachers are failing to teach students properly at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. Teachers, he said, are not recruited on the basis of quality and they are not even provided with proper training. As a result, they cannot teach the students properly." He called for revamping our education system from the primary level with more investment in the sector and ensuring necessary facilities. "We must ensure attractive remunerations for the teachers as well," he suggested.
There is also a pertinent need to stop coaching business. It harms students' learning process in a school environment. Competition among parents to send their children to coaching centres really harms the cause of quality education. It is an unhealthy practice. They should encourage their children to learn on their own. Parents should understand that achieving high grades cannot be the sole motto of education. It is more important to internalise and practise the values of what they learn in school in their lives.
With access to primary education provided, its quality now needs improvement on an urgent basis. High pupil-teacher ratios, insufficient contact hours, high dropout rates, low attendance by students, poor teacher training, insufficient teacher salaries, poor physical facilities, and low-quality textbooks and supplemental materials are among the critical issues. All these issues have been resolved in order to reap 'demographic dividend' in the country. Unless quality is ensured in primary, secondary and higher secondary education, the nation will have to face the crippling effects of low quality education in all tiers of national life. Good behaviour, hate for corrupt practices and people's human qualities do not grow overnight. Its roots lie in quality education.