‘Education for All’ and Bangladesh

প্রকাশিত: ১২:৪১ পূর্বাহ্ণ, ফেব্রুয়ারি ১০, ২০২১

‘Education for All’ and Bangladesh

Qazi Nusrat Sultana
Bangladesh is a geographically small country with a large population and a very low per capita income. But she has got a long history of rich cultural heritage. We had an articulated education system, from primary to tertiary level, both formal and non-formal, even before the Aryans came here. Of course the formal education was for the elite group which included mainly religion, language with grammar, literature and mathematics in primary level. Non-formal education included some reading, writing, numracy and life-skills with on-job apprenticeships. But still even in the later period of Pakistan era rate of literacy did not go beyond 20%. After the liberation in 1971 Bangladesh started thinking about literacy of the people seriously. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, adopted in 1972, acknowledged education as a basic right of the people and enjoined on the State to ensure the provision of universal and compulsory free primary education to all children, relating education to the needs of the society and removing illiteracy. From then on, through several Acts and initiatives, Bangladesh, with the assistance of the donor and NGO partners, have achieved a lot in the primary education sector. But still we did not get the total success, we could not reach the goal that is, the complete irradiation of illiteracy.
The World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA), meeting in Jomtien, Thailand in March 1990, in the backdrop of more than 100 million children having no access to primary schooling and 960 million illiterate adults in the world, adopted the World Declaration on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, with an “expanded vision” of basic education that went beyond the conventional structure and approaches to education in light of “convergence of the increase in information and the unprecedented capacity to communicate” (WCEFA, 1990). Education for All (EFA) is an international initiative. It was launched to bring the benefits of education to “every citizen in every society.” In 2000, in Dakar of Senegal in order to realize this aim, a broad coalition of national governments, civil society groups, and development agencies such as UNESCO and the World Bank committed to achieving six specific education goals. In order to set the context for discussion we may go through the goals once again:
1. Expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
2. Ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, those in difficult circumstances, and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete, free, and compulsory primary education of good quality.
3. Ensure that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programs.
4. Achieve a 50 % improvement in adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.
5. Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieve gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.
6. Improve all aspects of the quality of education and ensure the excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.
After a decade of slow progress, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to EFA in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000 and again in September of that year. At the latter meeting, 189 countries and their partners adopted the two EFA goals that are also Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Bangladesh is trying with sincerity and hardship to achieve the EFA goals as they were quite in line with Bangladesh aspirations.
Gender Disparity: One of the important points of the Dakar Framework was to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005. We have achieved this goal. Sometimes we find the ratio is higher in the case of girl-child. We hope that we shall be able to achieve retention rate target also by 2015.
Enrollment: Regarding GER (Gross Enrollment Rate), we have almost achieved the target. But regarding NER (Net Enrollment Rate) we have not reached the target yet. Considering initiative of the government and the trend of our people we hope that we shall be able to achieve the target by 2015.
Early Childhood Care and Education: We had a system of ECE (early childhood education) through 2-3 year Kindergartens though in a limited scale and mostly in English medium systems. Of course ECE was also there through ‘Maktab’s and ‘Tols’s. Though they had restricted their curriculum within religious education only in the recent past. However, recently the government has included one year extra course as ECE with the primary level. So, very soon this will also be a systematic affair for the whole target group.
Adult Education: Regarding adult education we could not reach our desired target. The Government is trying hard. A number of NGO’s are also working in this field. We are hoping to reach this target by 2015.
Equitable Access: The third EFA goal is to ensure equitable access to the learning needs of all young people and adults are met. Bangladesh is always careful about this. But we are still facing problems regarding dropouts and the completion of the primary education cycle. At present different incentives are given to keep the children in school till the completion of the compulsory cycle. Government has started a new programme called ‘Reaching Out of School Children(ROSC)’ for the drop-outs and the vulnerable.
Quality of Education: The 6th EFA goal is to improve all aspects of quality education. This improvement will aim at the excellence of all students of all levels. This will again ensure the learning outcomes in such a way that they are recognized and measurable, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life-skills. Through different initiatives and measures our Government is trying to achieve this goal also. Different NGOs are also trying to share the task.
It is very natural that ‘quality’ will be the final goal of any endeavor. That is why we always try to assess the quality after completion of any work. We know that assessment of the progress in quality school education is a very difficult task. But as we know that the ‘quality education’ should be the ultimate end of all our initiatives, all the stakeholders are trying to do that. We would like to know where the students stand regarding the seven-point scale that has been set to assess the quality of students of primary education level. However, research on outcome indicators is driving home the point that access achievements are not necessarily translating into commensurate quality achievements. Students are not becoming apt at the items of the seven-point scale that has been put forward by the curriculum specialists to assess the quality of the performance of the students. We may here recapitulate the items so that we may analyze the situation of our primary school children. These are:
1. Skilled in literacy
2. Self-dependent reader
3. Self-dependent and creative writer (that is, can write their ideas on their own)
4. Reading habit has been formed
5. Able to solve mathematical problems
6. Scientific minded and socially conscious
7. Apt at arts and crafts, that is can do drawing, painting, singing and acting.

Primary education is the base for the further education. This seven-point scale has been put forward, we think very rightly, with a view that mastery in those areas will make the base of a student quite strong. Few experiences from grass root level show that there remains a big gap between the expectations of the educationists and the reality. We should not let it go. We should look into the matter seriously. We should find out why the students are failing to master those skills and make all out efforts to fill in the gaps.

The keynote paper presented at a seminar of Policy Research Center, Dhaka 2013