Education projects begin but don’t end

Even in six years, there are no multimedia classrooms in any of the schools. Buildings have been left half-constructed in big colleges. Not a single school has been built. • Most of the 10 projects running under DSHE are being implemented at a slow pace. • The project duration is being repeatedly extended.

Construction of an academic building of Ananda Mohan College in Mymensingh is left half-done. Photo taken from college campus on Saturday, 17 December, 2022.Anwar Hossain

The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) had taken up a project in 2016 to construct information-technology-based multimedia classrooms in schools. The cost was approximated at Tk 13.53 billion.

After six years, not even a single multimedia classroom can be found. And, the progress of the project is just about 8 per cent. Meanwhile, the project director has been changed on allegations of corruption.

The situation has taken such a turn that even the concerned officials have become confused about whether the project is ongoing or discarded.

On condition of anonymity, a top official of the education ministry angrily told Prothom Alo that a project simply cannot run in this manner.

More or less all of the 10 such projects taken up by DSHE are being implemented sluggishly. The duration of the projects are being extended again and again. There is even confusion over whether the project will finish within the newly-fixed timeframe.

Meanwhile, pressure has been created to increase the project costs as the price of equipment and construction materials is going up.

When asked, DSHE director (planning and development) AQM Shafiul Azam recently told Prothom Alo, there are some jobs that concern the government’s policy-level decisions. Then there are other jobs where DSHE often doesn’t have anything to do. For example, the job of land acquisition in setting up a government high school is done by the local administration.

Some issues like this also contribute towards slowing up some of the project work. However, the people concerned are blaming the incompetence, negligence and corruption for the slow implementation pace of the project.

DSHE secretary Md Abu Bakar Siddique vented anger over the work of the multimedia classroom building project during a project review meeting on 23 November. According to sources, he at the time questioned the competency of concerning people.

The project of setting up multimedia classrooms is titled ‘The introduction of Education at Secondary and Higher Secondary Level (2nd phase) through ITC’.

Under this project, multimedia classrooms were supposed to be set up in 31,340 secondary and higher secondary level educational institutes across country along with training 575,000 teachers and officials in conducting technology-based classes.

At first the estimated timeframe of the project was four years, that is, till 2020. But, the duration was then extended by one year for the project not progressing. Later, it was been extended again till June next year.

As per sources of the project office, although there has been no work on setting up multimedia classrooms, they have trained about 150,000 teachers and officials already.

But an investigation done last year by the directorate of Inspection and Audit (DIA), an agency under the education ministry, found that the training programme had been plagued with irregularities and corruption on every level.

For example, former project director Md Abdus Sabur Khan collected Tk 170,000 with different signatures as payment of the ‘programme director’, even without being present in 20 trainings. Many other people involved in the project also embezzled government funds in the name of payment.

Later, a new director was appointed at the project. Yet the project still isn’t progressing. Meanwhile, government funds are being spent on salary and allowance for six officers and employees of the project year after year.

According to the education ministry and DSHE sources, four types of equipment - laptops, multimedia projectors (including screens), modems and speakers -- were supposed to be purchased to set up the multimedia classrooms. These four items make one set. In total, 46,445 sets of such equipment were supposed to be purchased.

It had been stated in the Development Project Proposal (DPP) that the purchase of the equipment will be done centrally. However, the education ministry for ‘some reason’ including the fear of corruption wants the educational institutes to be provided the allocated funds. Samples of the equipment and purchase guidelines will be provided while the institutes will buy the equipment on their own.

Attaching one such proposal, a revised DPP had been sent to the planning commission. The commission didn’t respond to that however. Lastly, it has been decided to resend a proposal on this issue during a meeting on 23 November.

Half-constructed buildings, work stalled

The project for the infrastructural development of some 70 post-graduate colleges was taken up in 2010. The project was supposed to be completed within three years.

However, the duration of the project has been extended up to June 2023 now after several revisions in phases. The cost of the project was estimated at Tk 16.90 billion. Some 74 per cent of the total budget has been spent as of August this year.

However, it has been learnt that the buildings under this project have been left half-constructed in many colleges. For instance, the construction of the 10-storey building at the Rajshahi Government College was stalled after the construction of the first two floors.

The situation is the same at Anandamohan College in Mymensingh as well. The construction of the 10-storey building there has been stalled after completing the third floor.

Md Amanullah, principal of the Anandamohan College, told Prothom Alo, “We have repeatedly urged the contracting firm to complete the work. However, they didn’t respond.”

The contracting firms are not interested in this project anymore due to the hike in the prices of rod, cement and stones. They have sent letters to the project director for price adjustment.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ahsan-uz Zaman, owner of the SAFD Traders, the contracting firm in charge of constructing the buildings at the Anandamohan College and Rajshahi Government College, said, “We got the work order in 2019. We were given 18 months to finish the task. However, they finalised the place for construction some eight months later. Besides, we could not work for six months in 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. In all, we couldn’t work for six months.”

He further said, “Meanwhile, the prices of construction material doubled. Therefore, we will incur a heavy loss if we continue to work at the current rate.”

The construction work of the five-storey building at the Bhola Government College was stopped after finishing the third floor due low quality construction.

Visiting the college last Saturday, this correspondent found the under construction building in dilapidated condition. There were cracks on the wall of the building.

Golam Zakaria, principal of the college, told Prothom Alo, “The construction of the third floor was completed in 2018. However, the engineers found the quality of the construction work to be below standard during the construction of the fourth floor. Following that, probe teams from the education ministry and the Education Engineering Department came and inspected the building several times in phases. The building is yet to be declared abandoned. "

There were discussions regarding the project for the infrastructural development of 70 colleges in the meeting of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE). According to the resolution of the meeting, DSHE director general Nehal Ahmed mentioned in the meeting that construction of 10-storey buildings in several colleges, including Dhaka College, was completed a few years ago. However, as there were no lifts or generators, these buildings are still not usable. He expressed his dissatisfaction over the matter at the meeting.

No progress of work

The government took up a project for the construction of some 10 government secondary schools at a cost of Tk 6.73 billion in 2017, which was estimated to be finished by June this year. However, we are yet to see any school constructed under this project.

The relevant sources say that they have completed the work of land requisition for the construction of six of the 10 schools. The process is underway to extend the duration of the project up to 2024.

The Secondary Education Sector Investment Programme (SESIP), which was taken up for improving the education quality at a cost of Tk 38.26 billion, was supposed to be completed by this month. However, as per the latest development, the duration of the project is being extended by a year.

The government took up another project for the development of the secondary schools in 2017 at a cost of Tk 32.84 billion. The progress of the project was only 15 per cent as of August this year. According to the sources in the DSHE, a proposal has been made for the extension of the project duration up to 2026.

A project titled “Extension of Opportunities for Scientific Education at the Government Colleges” is being implemented since 2018.

The project cost was estimated at more than Tk 25 billion and the project was supposed to be completed by June this year. However, the duration of the project has been extended up to June 2024 as the work is not completed yet. So far, only 22 per cent of the total project cost has been spent.

The project to construct nine primary schools outside Dhaka was supposed to be completed by June this year. However, the deadline of this project has also been pushed back by three years.

The purpose of the project taken by the DSHE cannot be realised as they are yet to be completed. The students are not getting the multimedia classroom as a result of the delay. Besides, it’s hard in many colleges to conduct classes due to the lack of classrooms.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former education secretary Nazrul Islam Khan said, “There are several factors. First, the people in charge of these projects do not have sufficient experience in this regard. Second, strict action is not taken in case of irregularities. Many of the people concerned just prefer to go with the flow rather than finishing the work in time. Therefore, these sorts of delays are recurring.”

[Our staff correspondent, Rajshahi, and correspondents from Mymensingh and Bhola have assisted in preparing this report]