Revitalising education

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 3, 2009 in Education

ON March 2, 2008 the chief adviser of the former CTG, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, provided some guidelines for educational priorities during a conference on Governance in Education. These guidelines can help establish improved quality of education and prepare our younger generations to compete in the 21st century.

While Bangladesh achieved 100% enrollment in primary schools in 2004, the quality of learning remains questionable. Quality of learning means the levels of student achievement that meet defined minimum standards. Low quality of learning achievement remains a major challenge in the education system. This has dire implications for the education system, as well as for the economic, social and political potentials of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has made impressive gains in economic growth and educational opportunities, and become one of the most successful developing countries in creating educational opportunities for children. Despite these achievements, much remains to be done, especially in education.

Quality of learning
The quality of education has not only lagged behind, compared to access to education, but has actually deteriorated. After five years of primary education, students master only about two to three years of the content. In a study conducted in 1992 among 2100 children aged 11-12 years, Unicef found that children who had completed five years of basic education had mastered the basic elements of 73% of reading, 28% of writing, 63% of oral arithmetic and 44% of written arithmetic, while the minimum levels in all four areas were achieved only by 22%.

When these skills were tested among children who had finished the five grades and continued to secondary school, the results were somewhat improved: reading was at 85%, writing at 50%, oral mathematics at 46%, and written mathematics stood at 60%, while 35% of students achieved minimum levels in all four areas.

In another study, researchers found that by 1998 the quality of learning achievements has actually dropped. Only one in three had mastered the basic skills, with an achievement of 58% in reading, 13% in writing and 37% in oral arithmetic. The quality of learning achievements was found to be much lower for girls and in rural areas. Girls in rural areas performed poorly in all four tests, and were 10 percentage points below boys.

Importance of quality of learning achievement
Unlike access to education, the problem of quality will remain at all levels. Unable to read and write at the level they are, children won’t be able to learn more complex material that builds upon prior skills and will have to eventually drop-out. Soon, the country will lack a qualified and skilled workforce and, more importantly, an educated citizenry.

Education is a basic human right. EFA Global Monitoring Report (2000) says that education is for personal development and fulfillment as well as for the development of cognitive and functional skills, and that it is vital for building democratic citizenship. Fernando Reimers, a Harvard university professor and a specialist in primary education — suggests that education plays a vital role in establishing an understanding of democracy and democratic institutions.

He has also argued that poorly educated people are more vulnerable to extreme ideologies, and that in the interest of safety and security, it is imperative that a nation educates its citizens to protect them from such vulnerabilities.

Poor quality learning creates barriers in education’s contribution towards a nation’s economic growth and development. The current global economy offers unprecedented opportunities for countries with growth potential, and it is crucial to have a workforce capable of competing in this global economy.

Bangladesh is a poor country, and poverty is an increasingly serious problem in large parts of the developing world; yet, unlike in the developed nations, improving quality of education in developing countries can spur rapid economic growth.

A World Bank study in Bangladesh has found that the likelihood of a household being below the poverty line declines by 37% when the head of that household has had only one to four years of primary education. Better quality education would do much more than just lift a nation out of poverty.

While increasing literacy rates have helped to reduce infant mortality rates and fertility among women, and increase health and nutrition conditions of the population and farmer productivity, improved quality of learning achievements may also positively influence all of these outcomes.

In the end, economic progress and social development in the twenty-first century will be defined by whether or not Bangladesh can take a quantum leap in its educational experience. It will be a challenge for the nation to prepare its human capital with good quality education. And, good quality education must, in turn, begin with establishing higher quality of learning achievements at the very basic levels.

There is now a tremendous opportunity for the newly elected government to make this most fundamental contribution to our nation: Step up to this challenge, improve the quality of primary education, and establish Bangladesh on a path to prosperity. This would be one of the most profound contributions to our nation.

Dr. Halimur R. Khan is a graduate of Harvard School of Education, and is an Assistant Professor of Russian at the US Air Force Academy.


The daily star 04.02.2009




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