Tiptoeing into the corridors of primary school was the most memorable chapter among my nearly 25 years of formal education in academic institutions at home and abroad. This is so because my childhood learning debut began with home schooling- mainly by my mother and private tutors. After meeting with school teachers and preliminary tests, my first day in primary school began with grade three. It was a joyous day - which I still relish. Therefore, primary school is very close to my heart. Unfortunately, what I see today - much to my utter dismay - is a gapping disparity in teaching and learning effectiveness among primary schools located in urban and remote rural locations. This is very disheartening.
There are three aspects of primary education that are reinforcing, and inseparable. They are:
• Basic literacy;
• Skilled work force;
While discoursing, Humayun Kabir, a former World Bank economist, asked me, "Also think of highlighting the importance of character building and inculcating a sense of ethics as part of growing up both at home and in school. Teachers must be oriented to that approach [heartily]". I retorted saying that I still remember what my fourth-grade teacher once made me memorise and recite in class, "Money is lost, nothing is lost; health is lost, something is lost; character is lost, everything is lost". I think every child should be taught this adage as their first lesson for character building.
Professor Abdullah Abu Syed has spent most of his adult life preaching and endeavoring to create Alokito Manush (enlightened citizens) and continuing with his crusade untiringly to this day. If I may, I will add that the crusade to create Alokito Manush may have the most promising and tangible outcome only if the character building is rooted and nurtured in the young and fresh minds of our children who are yet to understand why bad is evil and good is divine. Imbibing character building to become Alokito Manush may be too late when children reach their adolescence. Why so?
French psychologist Jean Piaget in his 1952 pioneering work in cognitive development in children analysed the following questions: What are children capable of learning at various stages in their development? How do they develop the intellectual skills needed to interact with their surroundings? How do these cognitive abilities progress and in what order?
Piaget argued that attention, short-term and long-term memory begin to progress between the ages of two and five. Auditory processing, one that is critical for reading skills, develops between the ages of five and seven. Logic and reasoning become more perceptible after five years of age as a child becomes better able to decipher/connect competing ideas.
The broad remit of primary education means that attention must be directed to both cognitive and intellectual aspects as well as to the social and emotional development of pupils. Piaget believed that "cognitive, emotional, and sensory domains that require higher-order thinking" are mostly done during 12 years of secondary and higher schooling. That's why the nexus between "teacher and the taught" is so paramount during a child's school years. At institutions of higher learning, students are expected to cultivate and harvest those attributes and keep expanding their domains.
A widely recognised view to correct the problems of education systems must be an all-out effort to learning the basics, involving the three "Rs"-reading, 'riting (writing) and 'rithmetic (arithmetic). Being highly proficient in the 3 Rs is of immense value and importance. Unfortunately, though, the missing element is that educators and students have not been taught the true basics of how to study and learn. It goes without saying that the role of parents in a child's school learning process is inescapable as was in my upbringing.
Numerous research reveal that the act of writing enhances reading, and reading is a major tool in math. The 3Rs are intimately connected to everyday real life. Once a child comprehends the phonics sounds and the phonics rules, he/she can easily read almost anything. Writing these same sounds and reciting them out loud while practising writing them is a proper way to reinforce reading skills and, thereby, reading comprehension. Once the student acquires the basics well, he/she can learn quite easily by simply reading the material and writing the essentials of what are deemed important.
Producing a skilled workforce at the minimum requires basic skills in the 3 Rs. Besides, a well-grounded primary education is a prerequisite for transitioning to SSC, HSC and beyond. Unfortunately, some estimates indicate that the drop-out rate from primary school is nearly 49 per cent. This is appalling and should be a taboo.
No nation expects that all its citizens will receive a college/university education. Otherwise, the country must allow the flow of immigrant workers to work on farm land to grow food and help raise dairy and beef cattle. The U.S. and Canada are the prime examples of this immigrant-dependent agricultural industry - not because the Americans and Canadians are all college graduates- rather they're reluctant to work on farm land given they have opportunities for higher paying jobs in the manufacturing sector.
Economic growth and wealth building of a nation is a function of the productivity growth of its labour force (Potential GDP = number of labour hours put into work x output produced per hour). Therefore, investing in education and training of the workforce is a panacea to the economic success of an individual, family and a country. Higher productive workers earn higher wages contributing to higher standards of living. In the U.S., worker's compensation account for 65 to 70 per cent of production costs. Higher labour productivity keeps production cost per unit down which in turn keeps product prices under control, benefiting the consumers at large. A part of firms' cost savings stemming from higher productivity is passed on to workers as higher wages.
It is no secret that higher labour productivity-countries are among the richest in the world. In fact, the convergence hypothesis in macroeconomics predicts that when a developing country, B, adopts the production function (- a process of turning inputs like labour, machinery, technology and raw materials into outputs such as goods and services used by consumers, businesses and government) from an advanced country, A, the economy of B grows faster relative to that of country A overtime and therefore, the two countries' economies converge (i.e. the GDP gap narrows). Examples include Italy, Germany and Japan after World War II. More recently, in the mid-20th century, some East Asian countries (e.g. Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) converged with other more developed nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. For Bangladesh, adopting advanced machineries and technologies in the manufacturing sector will require education beyond the primary level.
Empirical evidence shows that increases in education levels since the 19th century account for between one-fifth and one-third of economic growth in the U.S. On an individual level the high returns to education reflect its impact on labour productivity, with an additional year of schooling providing, on average, 10 per cent increase in wages. Several studies have also identified workers education as a driver of improved demographic and health outcomes, contributing to decreases in infant mortality and fertility.
Going back to primary education, I noticed a gapping disparity among schools in urban and remote locations in the country. If policy makers do not work passionately to implement uniform standards in all schools regardless of locations, the less fortunate will remain illiterate, poor, and die prematurely. Therefore, no child should be left behind.
Dr Abdullah A Dewan, formerly a physicist and a nuclear engineer at BAEC, is professor of economics at Eastern Michigan University, USA.