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POST TIME: 5 April, 2019 12:54:05 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 5 April, 2019 01:02:38 AM
What ails the education sector?
Education is the key to survival of all civilised societies. It is the only channel through which knowledge and wisdom is translated into the framework of social, economic and cultural aspects of a nation
SYED MEHDI MOMIN

What ails the education sector?

Media reports say that as many as six out of ten government primary schools in Bangladesh are running with fewer than needed teachers and of them 8,560 such institutions in hard to reach areas are facing acute shortage educator as only three teachers are imparting lessons to their students there in each school.

Shortage of teachers affects day to day academic activities let alone quality of education, which is one of the reasons why government primary school students are falling behind non-government schools and kindergartens..The importance of well trained teachers in the education system cannot be overemphasizes. Teachers’ professional training is undoubtedly a vital factor in improving students’ learning. Keeping this in view many developed and less developed countries pay significant attention to improve the practices of teacher education. In order to develop capable teachers they make conscious efforts to establish and maintain quality teacher education institutions.

Bangladesh unfortunately has a history of teachers training various challenges such as lack of consistent policy, inconsistency in curriculum, low resources, lack of quality teachers, low quality of teaching process, lack of standard, etc. Many studies have raised the question on the quality of delivery mechanism of the institutions while forwarding recommendations for improvement.

Bangladesh’s constitution guarantees educational rights for all its citizens. In fact, primary education was made “compulsory” in 1992. Yet even today 5-10 per cent of the kids still don’t go to any school, let alone finish school. Can we hold their parents responsible for that?

Does the state have enough resources to bring up all the families from below the poverty line? If not, the way is through increasing opportunity, providing incentives through making education free, and providing free books. Without doing these things declaring education as "compulsory" bears no meaning.

If effective steps are not taken immediately to ensure quality modern education, this country will be left behind and dreams of generations to come will remain unfulfilled.

Unfortunately, despite intermittent attempts at reform, Bangladesh’s system of education is more or less entrenched in an antiquated colonial approach and the curriculum and educational policies remain outdated.

Success in schools in this country is based mostly on how much a student has memorised. Knowledge is thrust upon students, who have devised ways to retain the knowledge temporarily, regurgitate it and move on. But this is not the essence of education. An acceptable modern education is one that gives a student the best preparation for life after school. In our working lives, we have to make decisions and solve problems that require creative solutions.

There’s little hands-on experiential teaching, critical analysis or independent thinking – often considered to be the building blocks of innovation. Further, entrenched disparities exist that prevent all Bangladeshi students from excelling and competing with their peers around the world. In areas where there is strong influence of religious fundamentalists insurgency groups, access to education is either limited or perhaps non-existent.

Government must work to develop wise leadership which comes from opening minds up to opportunities and by paving the way for personal achievement. Investing in education in this way will also help create jobs and enable young people to be more marketable and competitive with their peers around the world.  When minds are open innovation follows. By offering students the means to develop skills that will be important to the 21st century global community the country will prosper. The government must create these means by reducing disparities wherever they exist.

No one can deny that proper education is the key to survival of all civilised societies. It is the only channel through which knowledge and wisdom is translated into the framework of social, economic and cultural aspects of a nation.  However, over the years, unfortunately, because of the lack of strong political will and inconsistency in policies and various other factors, including social and economic issues, this important sector of education while not quite neglected has not been given the importance it deserves.

 Education, from elementary school to professional and higher education, is the single most important engine that drives progress in the economy, civic life and democracy. Bringing about drastic education reforms requires drastic changes in the prevailing attitudes toward education management, financing, curricula reforms, academic flexibility, research collaboration, the training of young people in fields that are needed in the local communities and industry, and much more. It also requires a long-term commitment of the stakeholders to make investing in education a priority for the government as well as the community.

In Bangladesh, there has developed an apparent gap between those who “have” and those who “have not”. This is especially become the case with so many private universities and schools. Undoubtedly, only a small population of mainly urban elite has the privilege to get real quality education. It’s obvious that those with access to better education are benefiting from the advantages while the rest and the majority, the less fortunate, continue to struggle for their bread and butter.

As is probably true for much of South Asia, Bangladeshi parents are very much involved in the lives of their children. This is also because most young people are financially dependent on their parents until they complete college and secure employment.

One of the main reasons why young people and their parents are worried a lot is that good quality higher education institutions (which can actually be termed as “centres of excellence”) are in short supply. Getting admitted into a good college is extremely hard and earning a degree or two from a regular college does not amount to much these days. A majority of the country’s higher education institutions can be categorised average or below-average. Therefore, it is not surprising that a large percentage of college graduates are found to be unemployable.

The citizens need to do more to persuade the government to act decisively. They need to come together and be vocal in expressing their concerns.

Poorly regulated madrasas and other religious schools are filling the gap of the public education sector and contributing to religious extremism and sectarian violence. The state must urgently reverse decades of neglect by increasing expenditure on the under-funded education system – ensuring that international aid to this sector is supplementary to, rather than a substitute for, the state’s financial commitment – and opt for meaningful reform of the curriculum, bureaucracy, teaching staff and methodologies.

 The students' lack of opportunities to get a quality education translates to a missed opportunity to alleviate poverty through economic growth and development. Budget planning for education must have specific and attainable goals for the next five years, increased gradually each year rather than planning unrealistically large allocations for a longer-term period. While having an ambitious goal for the next 10 years is desirable, it becomes very difficult to project that goal in attainable terms each year.

By planning on shorter timelines with more realistic goals the authorities are better focused and dedicated to allocate the assigned percentage of funds for education and deliver it on time.

The young demographic profile  of the country where about 40 per cent of the population is under the age of 15, translates into about 70 million children who need an education and professional training. To have a better planning approach for the expected number of children, a base line of the population increase must be calculated and to it a 10 per cent growth above the base line should be added. This number of children must be accommodated in the existing school system, by maximising both human and physical resources.

The colossal job to educate young children with limited resources and secure a future for them and the country can be addressed in several ways. One very effective approach to address this urgent need is by introducing one to two semesters of teaching school children as a requirement for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The rotating number of students who are trained to teach before graduation will provide a great temporary human resource to schools. At the same time, it may motivate many students to take up teaching as a career. Existing human and physical resources must be tapped to ensure that regular collaboration among professionals and institutions through joint research programmes take place.

Teachers must change the prevalent rote-learning teaching methods and find innovative ways to make teaching a more active, participatory and real-life related subject.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent and

can be contacted at: syed.mehdi@theindependentbd.com

SR