Increase investment: Education and skill development
According to Article 17 of our constitution, all the children of Bangladesh are supposed to receive full free education up to secondary level. But in reality, it is not so, especially for children from poorer households in rural areas.
Recent survey done by BRAC reveals that poor parents have to pay bribe at every step of their child's schooling. Such corrupt practice of extorting money from poor parents prevails among about half of the government schools in the country.
Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world, according to the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE). There are a total of 37,672 government primary schools in the country with an estimated 10.7 million primary school aged children (6 to10 years).
DPE figures also show that at present, a total of 6,300 primary schools around the country do not have a headmaster. The minimum international standard for teacher - student ratio is 30: 1 but in Bangladesh there is one teacher for every 53 students.
Lack of qualified teachers and poor school facilities in terms of the number of schools, classrooms, libraries and playgrounds are responsible for poor quality education at primary schools.
Lack of investment in education and skill development is an impediment to poverty alleviation and development of a knowledge-based society. If we can develop education and skilled human resources, we will be a rich country.
The education sector currently gets 14 per cent of the total government expenditure and 2.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Sixth Five Year Plan (SFYP) for 2011-2015. Investment in education should increase for faster alleviation of poverty and development of human resource.
Bangladesh committed in the Dakar Declaration and in various global forums that it would spend six percent of the GDP or allocate at least 20 per cent of the national budget for education. The UNESCO stipulates that the budgetary allocation for education should constitute at least six percent of the GDP and 20 per cent of the total budget.
But the allocation for education in the national budget was only two per cent of the GDP and 11.6 per cent of the budget in the outgoing fiscal year. Besides, a large portion of the education budget is spent for non-development purposes, mainly for teachers' salaries and allowances, leaving limited scope for investment in improving the quality of education. Take, for example, the allocation of Tk 17,103 crore to the education ministry in the outgoing fiscal year.
Of the amount, around Tk 12,677 crore was spent for non-development purposes and Tk 4,000 crore for development purposes, according to budget documents. Educationists and experts say there should be more investment in training of teachers, improvement of curriculum, construction of classrooms and setting up of libraries and laboratories.
The country has achieved 97 per cent enrolment for primary education, but the government should pay more attention to the secondary and tertiary education and improving their quality.
However, educationists pointed out various problems, including heavy curriculum, complex textbooks, and faulty examination and evaluation systems in secondary level education, and advocated the increase of budgetary allocation for the education sector.
Now, there are more than 66,000 government primary schools in the country. But the quality of education at many of those institutions is poor as they continue to suffer from many problems. Shabby classrooms, lack of qualified teachers and libraries, and low pay of teachers are some of the reasons behind their poor performance. Of the schools, more than 26,000 were nationalised in 2013 when questions were raised about academic and professional competence of a large number of the teachers in those institutions.
There have been allegations that many of them were not recruited in a transparent manner while many others got the job using political influence. On the other hand, dearth of competent teachers of science and mathematics and lack of training facilities remain as major challenges to ensuring quality education at secondary level.
There are only 338 government secondary schools in the country, and the rest 19,000 are non-government schools, quality of many of which is in question. Education ministry officials said the government secondary schools are considered quality institutions as they have better teachers and infrastructural facilities. But due to lack of adequate funds, the ministry cannot set up more secondary schools.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said the allocation for the education sector needs to be increased for ensuring quality education. The finance minister announced that the allocation for this sector would be increased in the upcoming budget, and we are hopeful of getting a bigger allocation. Experts and educationists say the country should invest more in education if it wants to achieve the goals set in the National Education Policy 2010 and Vision 2021.
Our future would be bleak if we do not increase our investment in education. It is a matter of regret that the government investment in the education sector is poor, and the allocation has been declining over the years.
The writer is a PhD scholar, Peking University, China