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25 November, 2019 11:25:45 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 26 November, 2019 04:58:02 PM


Why reforms mandatory in the education sector

The “brilliant” results of the candidates of the various public exams are no indication of improving standards
Syed Mehdi Momin
Why reforms mandatory in the education sector

Over the years because of inconsistency in policies and various other factors, including social and economic one, the education sector has not always been given the importance it deserves. In today's world, the benchmark for excellence is education.

Moreover, if a country has a distraught academic infrastructure, the chances to survive in current competitive world are slim. The central challenge of education reform in Bangladesh  is to improve education quality — measured by ‘student learning outcomes’, or what students are expected to know or be able to do — rapidly, affordably, and at large scale.
We do not seem to realise that providing affordable education to all is one of the primary obligations of a state. In the developed world, education is the preserve of the state. In USA for example, education till the 12th grade is free. These nations indeed are aware of the role a sound  education  system can play in their overall development and progress. Our ruling elite on the contrary have more often than not put the issue on the backburner. It is a matter of shame really that no Bangladeshi university is included in the 500 top universities of the world.

Bangladesh needs to consider serious reforms in the education sector. The constitution guarantees all rights for all its citizens. And primary education was made “compulsory” in 1992. Yet even today there are kids still do not 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  free, and providing free books; declaring  as "compulsory" bears no meaning!

It would not be out of place here to mention that the “brilliant” results of the candidates of the various public exams are no indication of improving standards. And regular reports of question paper leaks make many of the exams virtually meaningless as a test of scholastic aptitude.

If effective steps are not taken immediately to ensure quality modern education in this country, it will be left behind and dreams of generations to come will go unanswered. Unfortunately, despite intermittent attempts at reform, most academics agree that the recent ‘reform’ that has resulted in holding public examinations for nine-year-olds have done much more harm than good. Bangladesh’s system of education is more or less entrenched in an antiquated colonial approach and the curriculum and all policies remain outdated. Success in schools in this country is based mostly on how much a student has memorised. Knowledge is thrust at 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 it is either limited or perhaps non-existent. One of the major infrastructures to suffer is schools, which are often damaged during political agitations. Extremist groups who oppose secular education destroy schools and other places of learning and there are reports of even attempting to prohibit girls from attending secular institutions.  

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.

C.S Lewis once said, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” 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. Public schools must be raised to the same standards as those at private schools. The curriculum must be modernized so that a culture of novelty and creativity can be nurtured. Politicians must recognize this importance so that educational reform will generate greater support from the voters.

Private schools are flourishing but few, except perhaps those which cater to the elite, provide quality education. Attempts are being made to harness private sector support, including through partnerships and philanthropy, but the scale of the challenge requires a government-led approach and political ownership of reform. In most cases neither the parent nor the teachers due to lack of professionalism are able to guide students properly. Lack of guidance is a very serious problem which students face in our country. Students due to high expectations of their families and absence of guidance for both the parents and students experience a lot of psychological stress, which has a retarding effect on their growth.

Availability of finance for education needs urgent attention. In most developed countries, if a deserving student is unable to finance their education, they get financing on easy terms, without collaterals. Collateral-free financing can be made available if a robust framework of credit guarantee funds is made operational. Those who are in charge of the sector should come up with bold and original ideas. Unfortunately most students here memorise and reproduce but do not internalise or understand what they have learnt. They are not able to apply basic concepts to day to day tasks, whether at school or at home. Fixing the sector, I believe, needs a realistic approach. The authorities must prioritise education in our country. And by prioritising, I don’t mean listing it as a priority for only those who are in power but for the general public. By the way how many times have the top anchors of talk shows even remotely discussed  in their programmes?

The pressure has to come from the public. More importantly, as long as teaching and grading methods are not revamped, no matter how much money is spent, the students will never attain quality education. There is an urgent need for change in the teaching and evaluation methods in the country across all levels of education. A teacher has to be trained in innovative methods, interactive techniques and approaches to impress the students, to develop their interest in the subject and to arouse curiosity, which is the first step towards learning and acquiring good education. Grading has to be very careful and holistic so that it truly gauges the intellect and aptitude of the students instead of pushing them towards a number oriented rat race of scoring GPA 5 or Golden GPAs. The country needs truly learned people rather than mere degree holders. Another important initiative should be is providing counselling across all levels of education has to have a purpose: defining that purpose is something that the teachers, parents and each student must sit down and discuss. Counselling is perhaps the key aspect of education reforms that must be taken into consideration at the high school and university levels.

Unfortunately, in current schools and universities such a set-up doesn’t exist. The majority of the students are pursuing computer science, economics or business degrees are doing so because that is what ‘everybody’ else’s market was doing. Integrating the component of counselling is the key to education sector reforms that will go a long way towards self actualisation of students and putting them in the right direction based on their interests and job market trends.

It should be noted that the world is now moving towards specialised certification and skill set trainings. Vocational trainings, hence, is a great alternative that can put our youth to high quality work and enable the government to extract value. Training in sectors that link the local economy with global economy is what can create an excellent workforce that can be exported and also used internally. In America, Europe and most of the developed countries, the emphasis of the states is on developing virtual education systems i.e. provision of education through online networks. Universities such as Harvard, Berkley and MIT are offering online courses and degrees. It reflects the importance of online education in the contemporary high tech world,

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent and can

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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