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Planning education upgrade in Bangladesh seen as patchy

Moslem Uddin Ahmed

Many beat their brains over how to do it as the government suddenly unravels a decision on upgrading Bangladesh’s educational system from elementary to below higher education, extending primary schooling up to class eight. The real driving purpose, however, is to mend a mistake made previously in railroading reforms that instituted a public examination at primary level.           

Refurbishing primary schools with classrooms, teachers, new curriculum and funds, assimilating the existing junior schools into the new structure, separating classes six to eight from high schools and bringing out eleventh and twelfth classes from colleges under the secondary schools and defining function of the intermediate colleges are among a hail of structural readjustments need to be done to implement the latest recipe.                

"The decision is final," Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told the media in announcing the education-improvement measure decided in a meeting of a national panel of experts recently.

Many were taken by surprise at the sudden announcement of the ‘final’ decision on such a major matter of national interest. There is a word in the vocabulary called “preparation”, pro-BNP former bureaucrat Mofazzal Karim said at a live talk show discussing the issue. Actually the announcement was not backed, then or up till now, by the modalities to make it happen.                      

Education-sector union leader Principal Kazi Faruq Ahmad also appeared concerned about a load of preparations the decision necessitates to be realized. “A recast is urgent, as intermediate grade also gets extinct with primary education extending up to class eight (VIII) and secondary to class eleventh and twelfth (XI and XII),” he told another live discussion.                

Former education minister Sheikh Shahidul Islam raised a straight dispute particularly over the decision to upgrade primary education up to class VIII. “Nowhere in the world is there primary education up to class eight,” he said. The JP leader put emphasis on quality upgrading of education, so did all other discussants on the subject. They all aired their worry over the quality.             

The ex-minister’s observation is thought-provoking, as to whether Bangladesh really stands out as a unique case in education reform. A search into the American education system in the West and the Indian in the East produced findings with which the invention in Bangladesh does not match by a full measure.             

In the United States, prior to higher education, American students attend primary and secondary school for a combined total of 12 years. These years are referred to as the first through twelfth grades. Around age six, U.S. children begin primary school, which is most commonly called “elementary school.” They attend five or six years and then go onto secondary school. Secondary school consists of two programs: the first is “middle school” or “junior high school” and the second program is “high school.” A diploma or certificate is awarded upon graduation from high school. After graduating high school (12th grade), the students may go on to college or university. College or university study is known as “higher education”.

The Indian education system runs as follows:

  • Pre-school: Education at this level is not compulsory
  • Private playschools: Catering for children between the ages of 18 months and three
  • · Kindergarten: This is divided into lower kindergarten (for three- to four-year-olds) and upper kindergarten (for four- to five-year-olds)
  • Primary school: First to fifth standard/class/grade (for six- to ten-year-olds)
  • Middle school: Fifth to eighth standard/class/grade (for 11- to 14-year-olds)
  • Secondary school: Ninth and tenth standard/class/grade (for 14- to 16-year-olds)
  • Higher secondary or pre-university: 11th and 12th standard/class/grade (for 16- to 17-year-olds). This is when students choose an academic area on which to focus
  • Undergraduate: A BA is a three-year degree. Specialised courses such as medicine and engineering can be longer
  • Postgraduate: A one-year course

Back on to the Bangladesh case of restructuring of schooling grades, preparation figures out as a Herculean task to put the `final decision` on upgrading primary education up to class eight into practice. Deficiencies in this vast phase in the transformation or any misstep may prove disastrous for academic life of hundreds of thousands of students, fear analysts.

The preparatory tasks split into a number of massive activities: recruiting qualified teachers for 63,000 primary schools, rearranging existing junior high schools, separation of classes up to eight from high schools to bring them under primary education management, preparing fresh curriculum from class one to eight and fund allocation for running the separate education management as well as integrating secondary and intermediate classes under combined high school and college jurisdiction.

Thus, a single decision unleashes a great volume of works. First, the government has to prepare a new curriculum for the primary level which may take a great deal of time. Then, there is the need of creating new posts of teachers as the primary level takes a leap. Allocating all the additional funds for the upgrading is no small a matter. 

Currently, around 63,000 government primary schools across the country provide education up to class V while around 19,000 secondary schools up to class X. Of the 19,000 institutions, 2,381 junior secondary schools provide education from class VI to VIII. These schools will now go under the jurisdiction of the primary education ministry, said sources.

As the whole primary education curriculum has to be changed, the books for the students may see a sea change also, which can be difficult for the students.

The bigger question yet remains: if this change can help the students from falling out of education or not. If this step fails to decrease the rate of dropout of students in the country and bring about a qualitative change in education, critics fear, it may turn out to be waste of money, waste of time, and accentuation of confusion among students and parents once more.  

They point out the introduction of primary school certificate (PSC) examination at the completion of primary-level schooling. It is now set to be abolished with the raising of termination time of primary education up to class eight. On this point of correction, students and guardians are heaving a sigh of relief. Guardians are staging processions to demand that the PSC be done away with instantly.              

A good intention for improvement in standard of education practically got perverted—the tender-age children fell into the blind alley of coaching ‘commerce’. Classroom teaching in all levels of education in the country has a taken a knock for roaring business of private teaching by teachers. Many of them are mounting commercial billboards on the wonders they can work for students in getting the highest grade—GPA 5 or the like.      

Academics were shocked by the crude fact of babies falling into the coaching trap amid a competition among parents for getting them the best results money can buy in a tricky situation they are also in. Eminent educationist Prof M Zafar Iqbal sent a letter to the ministry of education as he could not join the decision-making meeting. In the letter, he dismissed the primary terminal exam as harbinger of a disaster in the education system, with private coaching taking a turn for the worse.

June 9, 2016




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