Rasheda K Chowdhury is the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) and former adviser to the caretaker government. He was actively engaged in the 2010 education policy. In an interview with Prothom Alo, she talked on various apsects of the education situation.
Prothom Alo: Why is education in such a bad shape?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: I will not say that education is in a bad shape. The main achievement in our education sector, is that all people are eager. Whether rich of poor, people want their children to be educated. Farmers in neighbouring India say, “What is the use of educating children?”No one in Bangladesh talks like that. Another achievement is that female education has expanded. After the fall of the autocratic rule in the nineties, all the elected governments have prioritised female education. Now we are reaping benefits from this.
Prothom Alo: You say people's interest in education has grown. Can the education provided by the state meet the present-day demand?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: This is a big challenge. On the one hand the people’s interest for education has increased, on the other, educated youth are not getting jobs. According to the World Bank, around 2.2 million youth enter the job market every year. But we are unable to provide jobs to all of them. This is distressing. Many young people are turning to different types of education as they cannot rely on the education provided by the government. The coaching business is expanding. Education is gradually turning into a commodity. The state is unable to control this. As a result, a disparity has been created in the education sector. The government has no effective measures to address this.
Prothom Alo: Why was the education policy of 2010 not implemented?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: It look us a very long time after independence to get a full-fledged education policy. The Qudrat-i-Khuda education policy formulated in 1974 was not implemented. None of the education policies after that were complete. The 2010 education policy recommended basic changes in the education system. This would require a co0mplete overhaul of the education system. It also recommended a permanent education commission and a education law. But none of this was implemented. The education policy remains in its draft stage. The policy called for allocating 20 per cent of the budget for the education sector by 2018, but the policy has not been implemented.
Prothom Alo: Why was it not implemented?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: Education is still assessed in a fragmented manner, not comprehensively. As a result, everything is been haphazardly. The government has control over the primary level, but the secondary and the higher secondary levels are running disorderly.
Prothom Alo: The education policy of 2010 proposed primary education up to class 8. Why was not this implemented in the last eight years?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: There is a big gap in our education. Our education has been exam-centric rather than knowledge-centric. The students have to pass four public examinations to be able to enter higher education. These exams are in class 5, class 7, SSC and HSC. Nowhere else in the world are there so many public exams. Class-based evaluation is given more importance instead.
Prothom Alo: But even the public examinations are not held properly. Students are passed even without writing anything.
Rasheda K Chowdhury: The main goal of these public examinations is to assess skill and qualification, but that does not happen in our examinations, especially in the primary level. The students are passed on a large scale, but a study found that only 25 per cent actually achieve skills in English and 36 per cent in mathematics. What is the need for public exams? Currently the policymakers are thinking of stopping the exams in class 1, 2 and 3 at the primary level. I think there should be no exams up to class 5. Then we will get rid of exam-centric education. The spread of coaching businesses will be reined in. Education will be knowledge-based. The study shows that the coaching business starts from class 6. The students look for guide books.
Prothom Alo: Why did the quality of education fall in the last ten years?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: While I will not say outright that there has only been a deterioration in the quality of education over the last ten years. But I have to admit that the quality of education is questionable. After spending 56 hours for exams, a student has to sit for exams again for admission into university, medical college and engineering universty as our education is exam-centric. This means that the stakeholders have no confidence in the public exams.
Prothom Alo: What is the government doing to improve the quality of teachers?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: The government has taken various steps to improve the quality of teachers. The donor agencies have also taken measures. Quality is not the only the issue. Teachers are the driving force of the education system. But the question is whether they receive the education which can meet the demand of the day. If they receive such training, do they apply in the classroom. Our monitoring system is very weak. Most of the secondary educational institutions are private. The government provides books free of cost, salaries to teachers and employees who are included in the MPO. But this institutions run a 'recruitment business'. So qualified teachers are not recruited.
Prothom Alo: Are you happy with the allocation for education in the proposed budget?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: We have noticed for several years that that the allocation for education and health is on the same level. It is only two or two and half per cent of the GDP. The budget for education should not be assessed from the monetary point of view. We have to see how much money is being spent for a student. There are also gaps in this allocation. There is a big gap of allocation between a cadet college student and general student. It seems the state is backtracking from its responsibility in the education sector. This goes against the principles of our constitution.
Prothom Alo: According to the education policy, our education will prioritise the spirit of liberation war and science. But due to pressure from certain quarters, changes were brought to the text books during the tenure of this government. The writings of many progressive writers and poets were dropped. How do you view this?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: This is all a part of election politics. When we talk about the liberation war, reactionary quarters create confusion by bringing up religious dogma. But there is no clash between religion and the liberation war. The government has taken a stepd to revise the curricula. We hope there will not be anything against free thinking and the liberation war. Free-thinkers must raise their voices. There should not be anything which promotes communalism.
Prothom Alo: Will education take the society forward, or will society take education forward?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: In the language of poet Rabindranath Tagore, I want to say that the society is harmed by the illierate. Society is destroyed by the ignorance of the educated people. What so-called educated people here have done in the name of education is unacceptable. They are trying to pull the society backwards.
Prothom Alo: Our literacy rates have gone up but are the demands being met?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: We need to think about the human resources that we are generating, whether this can meet the demand of the day. We have to hire people from abroad at managerial levels in different sectors including the the readymade garment sector. We are unable to create skilled human resources. A section of our human resources is going abroad. They get low wages as they are not skilled. We cannot provide employment for all of our people. The government has no serious study on this issue. We have been benefited by investing in agriculture research. There is a revolution in agriculture. But research is not being carried out on education and the labour market. We are surprised that most of the ministers of the current government are businessmen. They are supposed to know what type of human resource is needed. No development will be sustainable until competent human resources are created. The disparity will not be dispelled either.
Prothom Alo: Is our education not increasing disparity?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: It is increasing certainly. Those who are getting better opportunities are earning more. But those who are not getting that opportunity are lagging behind.
Prothom Alo: Has corruption increased in the education sector?
Rasheda K Chowdhury: Everyone is aware of the corruption in the education sector. There are businesses for admission and recruitment. There is the coaching business too. Talking about the quality of education, we see in the media that 87 students of Dhaka University were involved in question paper leak scam. It is not only corruption but also moral degradation. We all have to admit the face that this 'GPA-5' culture does not boost our values.
Prothom Alo: Thanks you.
Rasheda K Chowdhury: Thank you too
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been written in English by Rabiul Islam.