The news regarding the decline in the number of primary schools and students over a two-year period is disheartening. According to the 2022 Annual Primary School Census (APSC) carried out by the Directorate of Primary Education, there were 133,002 public and private kindergarten primary schools in 2020.
However, this number decreased to 118,891 in 2021, and further plummeted to 114,539 in 2022. In contrast, the student count in 2020 stood at 21.5 million, which decreased to 20.09 million in 2021, before experiencing a slight uptick to 20.5 million in 2022.
Numerous private primary schools, particularly kindergartens, were forced to close during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, what remains unclear is the reason behind the prolonged closure of these educational institutions over the past two years. Have these teachers shifted to alternate professions during this period?
DPE’s additional director general Uttam Kumar Das told Prothom Alo the number had decreased mainly due to closure of the learning centre of a non-government organisation. But where did the students of those educational centres go?
Non-government development organisations came forward for the education of children in areas where there are no government primary schools. Nobody knows what happened to those children’s education after those organisations left.
Another report from the DPE highlights the repercussions of accommodating a larger number of students within a reduced number of institutions. As per the 'National Student Assessment 2022' jointly conducted by the DPE and UNICEF, a significant 51 per cent of the third-grade students and 50 per cent of the fifth-grade students lack proficiency in Bangla that corresponds to their respective grade levels. Shockingly, the proficiency standards for the fifth graders are not even suitable for the third-grade curriculum.
The report further indicates that students attending government and private schools demonstrate relatively better performance compared to those enrolled in NGO-operated schools and madrasahs. Notably, students who engage with supplementary reading materials alongside their textbooks exhibit comparatively enhanced skills.
BRAC University's Institute of Educational Development Founding Director Emeritus Professor Manzoor Ahmed remarked, “The results of this survey have revealed a disappointing picture of the quality of education in our country. Academicians and concerned individuals have been discussing this for quite some time, yet no substantial changes have been observed.”
This implies that despite the considerable attention claimed to be given to teaching methods and primary school examinations, the decline in the quality of education could not be averted. If the students increase, there should be a corresponding increase in the number of educational institutions and teachers. It is unrealistic to anticipate quality education while leaving numerous teaching positions vacant.
As much as our education policy makers demonstrate an interest in establishing higher education institutions, particularly new universities, they display indifference towards primary education.
Despite primary schools consisting of five classes, numerous schools function with only three or fewer teachers. Moreover, the inspection by the directorates of education at both primary and secondary levels has declined in comparison to previous times.
It is anticipated that the authorities will take a proactive stance and prioritise the enhancement of the quality of primary education.