Education is the backbone of a nation and responsible for the growth of a country. The United Nations General Assembly declared January 24 as International Education Day in celebration of the role of education for peace and development. The Sustainable Development Goal 4 puts emphasis on quality education - how it plays an important role in building sustainable and resilient societies and contributes to the achievement of all the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Government of Bangladesh continues to make education of the people as one of their top priorities and has set up a number of programmes and initiatives designed to help the mass people of Bangladesh obtain a basic level of education with an inclusive and equitable approach.
The literacy rate was 53.7 per cent in 2006, which shot up to 72.9 per cent in 2018 according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). While the male literacy rate is 75.7 per cent, for females it stands at 70.09 per cent, which indicates female education is still behind. The dropout rate has gone down from 50 per cent to 18 per cent. The rate of people receiving technical education was 2.0, which has now risen to 17 per cent. The ruling Government pledged to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the country by 2014. The target was echoed in the National Education Policy 2010 and the government's Sixth Five-Year Plan, but ultimately remained unmet. Strong emphasis has been given on increasing student enrollment, and Bangladesh achieved a great success in enrolling students both at primary and secondary levels maintaining gender parity. Various measures have been adopted to ensure quality and universal primary education.
In the National Social Security Bangladesh (NSSS), and the recently published NSSS Action Plan, the government has put emphasis on this particular sector. The life-cycle programme of the NSSS has strongly and repeatedly put education as a top priority. In the Action Plan it suggests that NSSS made provisions for primary stipend to cover 50 per cent of the primary school students and to increase the stipend amount and expansion of coverage of the urban primary student. Primary Education Stipend Programme (PESP) is one of the biggest projects for stipend for education, massive initiatives for digitalisation as well as women empowerment in Bangladesh. NSSS also suggests that the school meal programme as piloted by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education may be rolled out nationwide. Bangladesh government last year announced that it will expand its school meal programme to reach 400,000 children in 2,000 schools across 16 upazilas.
In Figure - 1, it can be observed that the budget for education-related schemes as a part of social safety budget is following an increasing trend over the 10 years' span. As implementer of social security programmes, the Ministry implements primary stipend programmes and school meal programmes. Ministry of Primary and Mass Education spends more than 5.0 per cent of the total social security budget. It is worth mentioning that currently 28 ministries and divisions are implementing programmes related to education and training. The allocation for this purpose in FY 2019-20 is Tk 876.20 billion (87,620 crore), which is 3.04 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) and 16.75 per cent of total budget allocations.
The trend indicates that the government has put high significance on education. The budget has increased allocations for cash transfer and in-kind services under social protection and social empowerment schemes. The National government has currently more than 13 education-related projects under the Social Protection schemes. While the 7th Five-Year Plan (FYP) stipulates average yearly rapid economic growth of 7.4 per cent, complementary strategies and polices are in place to make that growth inclusive and sustainable. In the 7th FYP, it is mentioned that the goal is to involve local communities, particularly women, children and persons with disabilities, in decision-making and in setting priorities for the provision of services. It therefore encapsulates a strategy which empowers individuals by creating opportunities so that people tend to be more productive and experience suggests that in the long term, a strategy of inclusiveness enhances growth. Still now the rate of dropout is much more among the student with disabilities. They cannot afford education cost because most of them come from poor families. In order to have a more inclusive education in mind, the number of recipients of stipends for disabled students is going to be increased to 100 thousand from 90,000 and the rate of the stipends increased from Tk 700 to Tk 750 for primary students, from Tk 750 to Tk 800 for secondary students, and from Tk 850 to Tk 900 for higher secondary students. However, importance should also be given on how accessible and disable-friendly the school's infrastructure is. There is still a high proportion of female dropout rates which are contributed by factors such as child marriage, household responsibilities, high levels of pregnancies, inaccessible schools, mental health issues and school-based violence. It is the responsibility of the state to create an accessible and inclusive environment in which their abilities can flourish.
The main challenge is to improve quality of education. According to the latest Human Development Report 2019, primary school teachers trained to teach was 50 per cent whereas our neighbouring country Nepal and Pakistan reached 97 and 82 per cent. There is a dearth of suitable and trained teachers. In all areas of education beginning with the primary level, more competent, compassionate and trained teachers are needed. Much of our future depends on how our education system is managed. It is now the demand of the time to ensure selection of competent teachers in all areas of education, provide them with training, and ensure selection of appropriate and timely academic subjects. The discrimination between rural and urban education is still visible. The capacity of primary school teachers needs to be enhanced by providing practical and modern training at home and abroad to meet the standard of modern education.
The government in their manifesto announced to take necessary measure to build infrastructures for schools, conduct basic literacy programme throughout the country to build a fully literate Bangladesh, and expand digital primary education using ICT. This increases the productivity of individuals and strengthens the potential for economic growth, develops the skills needed for decent work, the professional skills needed for sustainable development, including in the fields of water and sanitation, green energy and the conservation of natural resources, helps to eradicate poverty and hunger, contributes to improved health, and promotes gender equality .
The former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan described education as "a human right with immense power to transform" and claimed that on "its foundation rests the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development". Education should be a continuing priority for the Government, civil society and other stakeholders if as a nation we need to move forward. We are not far off, we have the policies, funds and institutions and now, it is time for action. The emerging economy of Bangladesh will flourish if proper investment is made in this sector with strong emphasis on quality of education.
Mehrin Karim is a Research Officer at UNDP.
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