Consider education a sustainable investment

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The national education policy 2010 clearly states that the base of education will be strengthened by removing existing problems including the massive gap of facilities in primary educational institutes based on locations and schools, infrastructural setbacks and shortage of teachers.

But when we look at the primary level education, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the education policy and the reality are moving in opposite directions. How can sustainable development of the country be ensured, if the basis remains wobbly on the very first level of foundational education, where the base of the future generation is shaped?  

The deplorable conditions of government primary schools in the capital came out in a report published by Prothom Alo on 5 May. While visiting 40 out of 342 primary schools in Dhaka, the school buildings were found to be grim and filthy. Teachers are outnumbered by students in ratio.

There are no officially appointed clerks, security guards, cleaners or nannies in the schools. The lands as well as infrastructures of quite a few schools have been forcefully occupied. There are no co-curricular activities while the standard of education is questionable as well.  

What could be the reasons behind this shabby condition of primary education in the capital itself? Is the authority so indifferent just because children from poor and lower-middle class families attend these schools? Educationalists believe that a lot of private schools have been established in the country.

Those who work in government or semi-government organisations don’t send their children to government schools. Doesn’t this discriminative attitude questions the promise of ensuring ‘universal’ and ‘equal standard for all’ education as announced in the education policy?

When such is the condition of the capital itself, it is easily anticipatable what can be the state of primary education across the country. The shabby condition of infrastructures and educational standards in the primary schools came out right in the survey of government’s Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED).

With the help of ten development partner agencies the government has implemented third primary education development programme (PEDP-3) as the key educational expansion programme on the national level. The project that started back in 2011, ended in 2018 after being revised twice.

IMED’s survey report on evaluating the impact of primary education development programme shows that almost 27 per cent of primary schools are rickety and the roofs in 19 per cent of schools leak inside the classrooms when it rains.

There are no tube wells in 13 per cent of primary schools while the tube wells are out-of-order in another 13 per cent of schools. And, there are no separate toilets in 25 per cent of schools. The survey provides a picture of the educational standards as well. As much as 37 per cent of primary-level students have talked of their dependency on guide books for studies.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) advises that it’s necessary to spend six per cent of the total GDP on education. We, however, failed to break out of the vicious cycle of super-frugality when it comes to allocating in education; rather the allocation in education actually is reduced in proportion to the GDP in the last budget.

Talking of meeting sustainable development goals or facing the challenges of fourth industrial revolution with so little allocation in education is nothing but an imaginary idea like the ‘leprechaun’s gold’.

When education is globally recognised as the most sustainable investment, we still couldn’t lay the base of primary education on a solid foundation. The picture of primary education running in tattered buildings amid stifling environment, against the country’s eye-dazzling infrastructural development including the mega projects, certainly is conflicting.   

It’s necessary to bring primary education out of this circle of shabbiness. First of all, it requires a political promise. Universal education has to be considered a sustainable investment and not a burden.