Education and human development are tied together as an international agenda, at least since 2000. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become the code of belief for countries around the world today.
In September 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration, establishing a global partnership of countries and development partners committed to eight voluntary development goals to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs called for action to: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a global partnership for development.
The Sustainable Development Agenda is of unprecedented scope and ambition, applicable to all countries and goes well beyond the MDGs. While poverty eradication, health, education, and food security and nutrition remain priorities, the SDGs comprise a broad range of economic, social and environmental objectives, and offer the prospect of building a more peaceful and inclusive societies. During the MDG era, many global progress records were set. However, several limitations of the MDGs have also become apparent, including the emphasis on a "one-size-fits-all" development planning approach, and a focus on aggregate targets rather than equity.
In this backdrop, in 2015 all countries came together and agreed unanimously on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda is centred on inclusion, pluralism and the rights of all. It calls for a fundamental reorganisation of our economic, political and social systems so that we can reap the benefits of inclusion, through stronger and more resilient communities and societies based on human rights and human dignity for all.
The vision and proposed activities in education under the 2030 Agenda, popularly known as the Education 2030 Agenda, has been designated as SDG 4 with 10 targets. It is held by many that the success of other SDGs, such as those related to health, growth and employment, sustainable consumption and production, climate change and humanitarian response, and peace, justice and good governance is also linked with the education goal.
SDG 4 or the Education Agenda will be reviewed for the first time during this year's High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The UN General Assembly, during this Summit Meeting in September 2019, will also review five other goals under the theme "Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality." These goals are all strongly linked to education: Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities), Goal 13 (Climate Action), Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and Goal 17 (Partnership).
Meanwhile, the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), which works closely with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and other agencies of the United Nations, has reviewed the Civil Society Spotlight Reports on SDG 4 developed by national education coalitions in 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. These reports highlight the concerns and aspirations of the most marginalised and excluded groups and the nature of civil society engagement in the official SDG-SDG 4 processes at the country level. ASPBAE members who developed the Spotlight Reports include Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Timor Lester, Vanuatu and Vietnam.
BANGLADESH SPOTLIGHT REPORT: The Bangladesh Spotlight Report is in accordance with the international perspective and agenda. Bangladesh is one of the highly populated E-9 countries [The "E" stands for education and the "9" represents the following nine countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, representing over half of the world's population and 70 per cent of the world's illiterate adults.]
Prior to that, in May 2015, the World Education Forum (WEF) 2015 in Incheon, Korea, set the ambitious Education 2030 agenda, replacing Education for All (EFA) 2015, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Bangladesh has achieved macroeconomic stability through a consistent trend of economic progress. In addition to the National Education Policy 2010 and complementing supportive documents, the Seventh Five Year Plan (7th FYP 2016-2020) seeks to increase the growth rate to reach 8.0 per cent by the end of the 7th FYP in 2021 and reduce poverty to 13.6 per cent. The quality of the labour force in terms of general education, as well as scientific and technical skills, is the most crucial factor for increasing productivity, improving competitiveness, and securing sustainable gains in employment, income and poverty reduction. The Government of Bangladesh has taken the Sustainable Development Goals as a core agenda and has taken a number of initiatives around it, along with SDG 4.
Immediately after the adoption of the SDGs, the government appointed a Principal Coordinator for SDG affairs to coordinate among the key actors. At the ministry level, there is one focal point and one alternative focal point for SDG-related issues. Three officials in the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, Secondary and Higher Education Division, and Technical and Madrasah Education Division were appointed as focal points, while three alternative focal points have been assigned in the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education and two divisions of the Ministry of Education.
The Seventh Five-Year Plan was almost ready when the SDGs were adopted. Still the government took efforts to align the plan with the SDGs. The General Economic Division (GED) of the Ministry of Planning is working in internalising the SDGs within the planning process of the government. The GED has carried out a number of initiatives, including the mapping of ministries by targets, for the implementation of the SDGs and their alignment with the 7th Five Year Plan, SDGs Financing Strategy, and Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, among others. This contributed to the state-level readiness and the development of an annual performance agreement by the ministries and concerned government agencies. Moreover, under the leadership of Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MOPME), the government has developed an SDG 4 Strategic Framework for Bangladesh.
PROGRESS ON SDG 4: Implementation of the National Education Policy 2010 and 7th Five Year Plan, Primary Education Development Programme (Phase 3 & 4), and Secondary Education Development Programme are instrumental for achieving SDG 4. To ensure effective implementation, the government has given special emphasis on technical and vocational education. Currently, five years of publicly-funded basic education is free in government primary schools. Secondary education is fee-paying. About 95.88 per cent of secondary-level learners are dependent on private education institutions. However, a large portion of these private schools receive salary subsidy from the government.
Although Bangladesh has made progress in the primary level enrolment and in achieving gender parity at secondary level, the transition to post-primary is still low. Thirty per cent of the children have not transitioned to secondary level at the right age. Participation in technical and vocational education remains a big challenge. Girls' participation in tertiary level is also relatively low. Quality remains the biggest challenge across all levels. Attracting qualified, motivated, and trained teachers proves to be challenging, and providing them with a congenial working environment, decent pay, and adequate time for preparation by a teacher policy are yet to be achieved.
RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE REPORT: Bangladesh needs to focus on the most critical issues in education equity, inclusion, quality, and financing. In doing so, it is necessary to (i) revisit the boundary, particularly legal, technological, physical, and moral boundaries that set the norms of operation; (ii) enact the Right to Education Act (or Comprehensive Education Act using a rights-based approach); (iii) ensure free and compulsory basic education up to grade 12; and (iv) reduce commercialisation of education.
The government and relevant education departments are called upon to improve the quality of education by (i) revisiting the curriculum at the primary and secondary level; (ii) increasing the use of ICT (information and communications technology) to foster the progress of educational attainment (planning, teacher's preparedness, learning enhancement, monitoring and reporting); (iii) improving physical infrastructure; and (iv) increasing the supply of teaching-learning materials along with ensuring the supply of competent, professionally developed, and motivated teachers and academic supervisors. Increased reliance on domestic resources and increased budget for education are needed. Ensuring the allocation of 15-20 per cent of the national budget and 4-6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is critical. Bangladesh needs to find innovative ways to come out of the 2.0 per cent GDP trap for education.
SEPTEMBER GLOBAL SUMMIT: Heads of states and governments will gather again at the United Nations in New York on September 24-25 for the first Global Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Spotlight Reports on the SDG 4 by 16 countries including Bangladesh will hopefully get due importance there in order to facilitate mapping of the future course of action.
Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed is Chairperson, Initiative for Human Development (IHD), member organisation of ASPBAE in Bangladesh & Member, National Education Policy 2010 Committee.