Interview: Rasheda K Choudhury

Disparities have pushed back the education sector

Rasheda K Choudhury
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Rasheda K Choudhury is the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) and former caretaker government advisor. CAMPE has been monitoring Bangladesh’s education system for the past two decades. The organisation recently published a research report on the post-Covid state of education in the country. She speaks about the results of the report in an interview with Prothom Alo’s Sheikh Sabiha Alam.

Q :

CAMPE has been monitoring Bangladesh’s education system over the last two decades. Recently CAMPE published another report on the sector. What is it about?

We have for long been pointing out the steady decline in the country’s standard of education. By means of three surveys since 2020, we have tried to determine the impact of Covid on the steadily deteriorating system of education. Like in the rest of the world, here too education has faced a setback due to Covid.

Q :

What are the results of the three surveys? What conclusions have you drawn?

The government kept up television and online classes during the pandemic, but the parents, teachers and the administration all agree that this was not a hundred percent success.

Our surveys have revealed the disparities between girls and boys, between rural and urban. Studies run by the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) have yielded similar results. Not everyone could use technology. There were connectivity problems, many could not avail WiFi connections. The network in Chittagong Hill Tracts is extremely poor. Not all places have the required infrastructure. The teachers didn’t receive adequate training either.

You will recall that the Covid-related technical committee carried out mapping regarding the incidence of Covid. We followed this map and recommended that the schools be accordingly opened in phases. Another recommendation that we made was to shorten the syllabus and bring the students back to the classrooms as soon as possible so they can overcome their inhibitions. The government took our recommendations into cognizance.

In our second survey, run in 2021, we saw that the extended closure of educational institutions had had an impact. Studies had slowed down. We identified the areas were damages had been done and how far studies had been harmed. We also came up with planning for recovery. The government too had recovery plans and also took our recommendations into cognizance. There may be questions as to how far these can been implemented.

Q :

What was the method of determining learning losses of the students?

We based our assessment on opinions and surveys. We discussed with government institutions and took tests in Bangla, English and math. Outside of that, we made an effort to take the opinion of teachers, parents, students and all stakeholders.

Q :

How did the students perform in these exams?

We noted that at the secondary level, two-thirds of the students did not pass in English and math. These were students of Class 8 and above. Interestingly, just as we see that girls are ahead in the education system all over the country, the survey results reflected the same. Again, area-wise too there were disparities. Some areas did well and other areas did not.

Q :

What are the possible long-term consequences of these students advancing to the higher secondary level with such poor results in English and math?

I would say that this weakness of the students is the fallout of the prevailing disparities. In our system, students with GPA-5 scores can’t pass the Dhaka University admission exams. All the government and non-government institutions have identified the areas of disparity. But we do not look into why these problems persist. The crux of the matter is education has been taken, to a large extent, outside of the educational institutions. UNESCO recently carried out a study on 13 countries including Bangladesh. It was stated there that the families in Bangladesh have to bear 71 per cent of the educational costs. Our field survey also pointed to the dependence on coaching and guide books. That has made studies expensive. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure education for all. Disparity will persist for as long as we cannot ensure this.

Q :

Your report mentions that teachers say students’ attention has decreased…

It was observed that after Covid, the children of families with the means and the opportunities, became extremely hooked onto the mobile phone. The educational institutions say that it is the mothers or the families who must take responsibility to control this habit. But reality is that all families do not have the ability to carry out the responsibilities in the manner that the teachers do.

The primary and mass education ministry published a report at the beginning of this month. There they say one out of four have not seen the light of education. So it is not right to expect that the parents of these 25 per cent will be able to help them. This is where the responsibility of the educational institutions lie, where the teachers need to come forward. Then again, we cannot merely impose responsibilities on teachers, but not bother about their  due wages or respect.

Q :

We had been hearing that students would face all sorts of risks due to Covid. Overall, outside of the learning losses, what sorts of losses have there been?

We had four apprehensions – an increase in dropouts, difficulties in overcoming the learning losses, an increase in child labour and malnutrition, and an increase in child marriage. It was in a Prothom report that we saw that the girl who had scored a hat trick in the Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Government Primary School Gold Cup, became victim of child marriage. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics came up with some important data in its national survey on child labour. We are talking about ensuring that all children go to school. But when the government persons visited the schools to carry out the survey, they saw many students were absent. That means that these children have either come to work or that school has lost its appeal to them.

Q :

What can be done for these children?

We had said it was essential to keep up the stipend for girls who had been victims of child marriage in order to bring them back to school. But we found out that this was not done. Stipends for other children who have dropped out will also be effective. It will be easy to being children back to school if the midday meal policy is implemented.

Q :

The teachers’ earnings have fallen too and they find it hard to make ends meet. Has this had any impact?

This issue demands attention. At the secondary level of education in Bangladesh, 80 per cent of the institutions run on non-government funding. Teachers of the non-government or MPO-registered schools do not get salaries up to their expectations, nor on time. We are also aware that non-government schools had shut down during the Covid pandemic. Many teachers left the profession and ran grocery stores. That is why there is no alternative but to increase the capacity of the teaching. We can’t talk about quality education, but then not bother about building up their capacity.

Q :

It is obvious that the education system has been hit hard. How to overcome this predicament?

The government has done something significant in coming up with a new curriculum. This curriculum makes an effort towards learning practically alongside bookish studies, to acquire knowledge and to move away from dependence of exams. The teachers have been given all sorts of training. The big challenge is actually applying this training in the classroom.

I will strongly recommend lessening the existing disparities. This required investment. This year there is an 11.57 per cent allocation for education in the national budget. Investment isn’t increasing in our education sector. It will not be possible to find a way out of the problems unless there is an increase in investment.                 

Q :

Thank you.

Thank you too,

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