The scenario of primary education
The right to education is not only the right to access education but also the right to receive an education of good quality. But what does quality mean in the context of education? Quality education includes many issues. It needs environment that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive. It also requires relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills. There must have a procedure through which trained teachers use child-cantered teaching approaches.
According to A K Bernard children's quality education's focus is on learning which strengthens the capacities of children to act progressively on their own behalf, through the acquisition of relevant knowledge, useful skills and appropriate attitudes.
Learning can occur anywhere, but the positive learning outcomes generally sought by educational systems happen in quality learning environments. Learning environments are made up of physical, psychosocial and service delivery elements. Quality of school facilities, interaction between school infrastructure and other quality dimensions and class size are few elements which can ensure positive learning. These parameters are really essential for the primary education sector of Bangladesh.
The Government of Bangladesh recognizes education as a means of reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for children. As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government of Bangladesh, with assistance from development partners, has made positive steps towards fulfilling children's rights to education, according to the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals. As a result, the country has made significant progress towards achieving universal primary education and gender parity in schools.
According to UNICEF's report, Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world with an estimated 16.4 million primary school aged children (6 to10 years). There are 365,925 primary school teachers, working in more than 82,218 schools including Madrasahs. The Primary Education Compulsory Act passed in 1990 made primary education free and compulsory for all children up to Grade 5.
Despite many achievements during the past decade, major improvements are still needed in order to make sure the benefit of quality education for children. The major challenges include poor quality of education, high dropout rates, promotion of equity and decentralization of education administration. In terms of access, the high enrolment rates achieved for both boys and girls do not yet equate to covering ALL the children in Bangladesh.
According to some INGO's reports, schooling opportunities are also very limited for some specific groups such as working children, disabled children, indigenous children and those in remote areas or living in extreme poverty.
The UNICEF 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey reports that only about half of the children living in urban slums attend school compared to a national average of 81 per cent net attendance ratio, and about 24per cent of slum girls never enrol in any form of formal or non-formal school. Even for those who are enrolled, completion of the primary education cycle is a critical issue. Only 55 per cent of children eventually reach Grade 5.
Access of girls and boys to primary education is no longer an issue. However, equity is still a major concern in the aspects of gender and inclusiveness for disadvantaged children. While more girls are currently enrolled in primary school compared to boys the number of girl students significantly decreases through secondary school. The school environment is far from fully comprehensive. Disadvantaged children, such as children with disabilities or from ethnic minorities, are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from educational opportunities. For example, it is estimated by the Bangladesh Bureau of the Census that, approximately 10 per cent of the children of preschool and primary-school age (3-10 years) are disabled. Currently 77,488 children with special needs of various types are enrolled in primary schools.
Contrary to the overall and general trend of girls' enrolment in schools being higher than that of boys, the enrolment of girls with special needs is significantly lower than boys. There are many children who are not going to school but who could attend if schools were more inclusive and child friendly.
The quality of the teaching learning process, the school environment and children's learning achievements are also major challenges. Poor qualifications and lack of teacher motivation are major challenges. Approximately, 24 per cent of Government Primary Schools and Registered non-government primary schools teachers are untrained.
The traditional and dominant way of teaching in most schools tends to focus on memorizing facts. There is little emphasis on developing analytical, practical or vocational skills. This results in several issues such as low achievement rate, high dropout and high repetition rate.
Currently, it takes an average of 8.6 years (8.7 for boys and 8.5 for girls) for a child to complete the five-year primary school cycle. Contact hours are an essential component of learning. Unfortunately, contact hours in Bangladesh average about half of the international standard of 900-1000 per year.
90 per cent of schools are double shift, meaning that student in Grade 1 & 2 attend in the morning (2 hours) and Grade 3 to 5 in the afternoon (3.5 hours). Coupled with high student absenteeism rates of 19 per cent, the actual average contact hours could be even lower.
These statistics and scenario mentioned above is a testimony that the real quality education for primary students is still a far cry.
Noushin Mouli Waresi is working with
The Daily Observer