Siddiqur Rahman is former professor of Dhaka University’s Institute of Education and Research (IER). He was a member of the 18-member national education policy preparation committee formed in June 2009. A nine-year target was fixed for the implementation of the policy at a cost of Tk 680 billion (Tk 68,000 crore). A decade on, without implementing the policy, the education ministry had decided to revise it. This experienced educationist questions the logic of this decision, while speaking in an interview with Prothom Alo.
The education ministry in 2010 decided to revise the national education policy. As a member of the committee that prepared this policy, how do you react to that?
The education policy was prepared 10 years ago so it can undergo revisions or amendments. But what is the point of these changes? The basic recommendations of the education policy were not implemented. Now after the policy is amended, what guarantee is there that it will be implemented?
How much of the last education policy has been implemented?
Some say parts of it have been implemented, but those minor things would have happened anyway, even without an education policy. There is always some work carried out by means of administrative orders and directives and that is what has happened over the past 10 years. Then again, the even though this was not in the education policy, the primary education certification (PEC) exam and the Junior School Certificate (JSC) exam were introduced.
Many point to financial constraints as a major obstacle to implement the national education policy. You all had estimated an expenditure of Tk 680 billion (Tk 68,000 crore). You can’t dismiss fund constraints.
It is not true that vast amounts of money will be required to implement the policy. There were many basic issues that did not need money at all. All that was required in certain cases was proper planning. I think money was used as an excuse to put the entire matter into cold storage. Implementation of the education policy lacks commitment, not funds.
What were the basic things that could have been implemented without money?
Take for example, it is said that Tk 300 billion (Tk 30,000 crore) is required for primary education till Class 8. Really? The classrooms, teachers, teaching implements and students are all there. What was required was coordination and management. We did not do that or even try to do that. We simply blamed it on money. Class 6 to Class 8 are still taught in schools and students could study in these schools. There would be no need for new infrastructure or furniture. Just some teachers would need to be trained. Most important was to have an integrated curriculum from Class 1 to 8. This would require some funds. If we haven’t even started, how can we complete it?
There are all sorts of divisions in our education system. How much importance did you all put on ensuring uniformity?
There are various types of education prevalent in the country. There is the general education, then madrasas, English medium and vocational education. Then each of these categories has different divisions. In primary education alone there are 11 categories. This creates differing qualitative standards and mindsets among the students. That is why we had called for a common curriculum from Class 1 to 8, but that didn’t happen.
What basic recommendations were there which did not require funds or required little funds?
There were many such recommendations. We called for an Education Service Commission on the lines of the Public Service Commission. No funds would be spent on this. The commission would be able to generate it own revenue and even had surplus in hand. It would be like the PSC which runs on its own funds and had surplus too. A law should have been passed in the parliament for this. We talk about qualitative education, but how can you have quality education without good quality teachers? That is why we recommended a commission to appoint teachers.
You placed a lot of importance on an education act. What didn’t this come about? Who is responsible?
It was extremely important to have an education act in order to implement the education policy. It was required to ensure transparency and accountability in the overall education sector and also to ensure punishment of those indulging in corruption and irregularities. It is very unfortunate that those who worked on this law had no idea about education laws, education curriculum or education policy. They just made a hotchpotch of it all. It is very unfortunate that the draft of this law was sent back several times by the cabinet. The education ministry has just being going round in circles for the last 10 years with this law.
There is another reason why this law hasn’t come through and that is because of certain powerful quarters involved in the sector. There are influential elements involved in note guides, coaching centres, English medium schools and other sectors that put pressure on the government. I feel that is another major reason for the law not coming into being.
What about moral education which you have stressed?
The national education policy placed importance to creating good humans. Our education system puts more emphasis on cognitive learning. We placed importance in ethics and practical education alongside knowledge. Stress was given to integrity, honesty, respect for elders, helping others and so on. The books were to drops preconceived notions that girls would become nurses or would do housework. All this was prepared for the students, but the teachers were not trained or prepared properly.
The education policy spoke of reflecting the spirit and values of the Liberation War in education. How far was that carried out?
This had some reflection in the 2013 textbooks, but then in 2017 many liberal writings were removed. Those involved in writing for the textbooks and curriculum were not apprised so the matter.
What else is important in studies?
Work-oriented education, vocational and technical education is important. We had recommended so many things including fine arts, life and work oriented education, career studies and physical education. Some things were implemented but then it was said exams would be replaced with continual assessment. This may be important, but the teachers were not prepared for that. Now these topics are not taught in 90 per cent of the schools.
Would it be right to open educational institutions at the moment? There are mixed views about this. What should be done in the circumstances?
This has become a sensitive issue. This is not singly the responsibility of the education ministry, but of the health ministry too. The education institutions cannot be opened full scale as before. Maybe there will be classes in two shifts. This will put pressure on the teachers, but then, they didn’t go to school for the past 6 months due to the prevailing circumstances. They may have to take on this extra pressure for the sake to educating the students.
Even with morning and afternoon shifts, would it be correct to start classes?
There are many issues linked to this decision. The school authorities will have to pay special attention to the children, ensure they have hand washing facilities. Temperatures must be taken. If a child shows any corona symptoms, the guardians must not send them to school. Proper management by the school authorities is vital.
What do you think of online classes?
It’s a good initiative during this crisis, but most of the students in the country are being deprived of this, particularly the rural students. All places in the country do not have internet connections, or the network is weak. Many cannot afford to buy internet packages. Many do no own smartphones or such devices. Even so, some are benefitting to some extent. But many are deprived. But there is nothing to be done about this.
Eight months of the academic year has passed. What is the future of education? How will the students overcome this?
It will not be wise to hurry things up at the moment. There should be no learning gap under any circumstances. There have been no classes since March. Even if schools and colleges are opened in the next couple of months, it would not be right to start the session in December. Studies are a continual process. If there is a gap, the students will suffer later. Why advice would be to take the session up to February or March. The over the next three years, gradually it can be adjusted back to the December session. It would be wrong just to make the curriculum concise and make the children take exams.