A joke going around says that top-division achieving students go on to be doctors, engineers and bureaucrats, second division achievers go on to become administrative specialists, third division achievers go in to business and effectively control the first two categories while those flunking go underground and control all other groups. It's stark and provocative but there is beef in the meat. The affluence and muscle of the last two groups are powerful tools working against social justice and fairness.
Ironically education is supposed to do just the opposite, create wealth through application of knowledge and add values through vindication of right over wrong. Sadly, there are more instances in support of the joke under reference than there is of the other. Now it has turned into a general free for all, courtesy the compromise of affluence.
The statistics are impressive. School drop-outs are down from 40% to 19.2% -perhaps even lower, teacher-student ratio has been trimmed from 1:46 to 1:34, stipend awardees are up from 7.8 to 13 million and 3.0 million children are getting food at school and pass percentage in public exams is close to a hundred per cent. But as the Primary Education week kicked off, the comfort-level of such statistics is anything but reassuring.
The number of schools have risen spectacularly, more teachers are being added to the fraternity and nationalisation of schools continues. More money has been ploughed into education and then there is the complex issues of Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) holders not being able to make the mark in admission tests to universities, especially in liberal arts and humanities. Public University teachers shake their heads at the obvious lack of proper grounding and parents are left wondering where it all went wrong. The straight line to connect the dots between quality and quantity is going all curved, indeed missing the target.
Opening new schools, colleges and universities was, is a necessity given the numbers of curious, learning-hungry children and the thrust was important. But somewhere along the way of tinkering with curricula and getting the passing rate up, quality education has fallen through the cracks. Expensive English medium schooling is leaving students with huge gaps in Bangla, to the extent that a school was audacious enough to post a notice that any irrelevant conversations in Bangla would be disciplined. On the flip side, Bangla medium schools are leaving students with too many hikes in their English education. In the past teachers were committed enough to take extra sessions to help students recover ground in weak areas. Nowadays it's all about 'guaranteed' grades -not guaranteed learning.
By 2030 the ministry of primary and mass education intends to bring all forms of education into one stream. That's in another thirteen years. Between then and now, there has to be an adjustment that takes cognisance of the short-comings of all these forms so that the students are not compartmentalised against the demands of the job market. The stigma of specialised studies, created with obvious intention has to be removed and since that is an issue of perception, it isn't an easy one to crack. The breed that has hastened into the sunset were educated in the traditional pre-modern system and yet had the wherewithal to pick up new skills, acquire knowledge and adapt. The basics were always in place. The choice since then has been specialisation and the rest, as they say is history.
Finland is beginning an interesting experiment whereby students won't get traditional specialised subjects. Instead, they will delve knowledge in the perspective of settings they are familiar with. The elements of sciences involved in a classroom situation is what they will explore, rather than boring theory itself. Interest piques in real situations and maybe forward planning for our education could fund a bridge between the A and O levels, the GREs, Gmats, SATs and IELTs. Interspiced could well be culture, literature and religious study.