The education system in Bangladesh is divided into three sectors:
- The primary education sector covers education from the age of 6 for five years.
- Secondary education covers the next stage, from the age of 11 for a further seven years.
- Tertiary education is the highest stage covering subsequent education in universities and other institutes of higher learning.
Overall education system in Bangladesh
Public spending and enrolments
Total public spending on education in Bangladesh was around 2.5% of GDP in 2002, compared with a low-income country average of 3.1% in the same year.
The enrolment ratio, which shows the percentage of the relevant age group that is actually enrolled in an educational establishment shows that in 2002, the primary sector had an 85% enrollment ratio, the secondary sector had 45% enrolment ratio, and the tertiary sector had a 6% enrolment ratio.
Growing private sector
There is a growing private sector in education in Bangladesh, and most schools in the non-government sector get a large subsidy from the government, which can be up to 80% of teachers’ salaries.
In the cities, there are also a growing number of entirely private schools, some of which charges high fees and a growing number of private universities.
- The relevant questions for the education sector are whether the level of spending on education is appropriate for meeting the country’s educational needs, defined both in terms of providing education as a civic right of citizens, as well as meeting the needs of employers and the self-employed who need skills to survive in an increasingly competitive world.
- Bangladesh lags behind its competitors in education. In 2002, the adult literacy rate in Bangladesh (of those aged 15 or more) 41.1% compared to a South Asian average of 59.3% and a low-income country average of 63.9%.
- At the higher end of education, Bangladesh is even less competitive with neighboring India, which is able to exploit its higher education ‘graduates to enter global software markets and provide outsourcing services to international companies. If Bangladesh is the compete in these markets, not only does it have to improve average literacy, it has to improve the quality of its higher education in the tertiary sector to a significant extent.
Reviews of Bangladesh’s performance in its primary education sector have indicated that substantial progress has been made in increasing enrollment over the last twenty years. Increasingly, the proportion of children from poor backgrounds and illiterate households are attending schools.
Public and private sectors
Attendance has been helped by the growth of a wide variety of non-government schools (which are nevertheless very often receiving government subsidies) that serve the special needs of children from poorer backgrounds. In particular, some of these schools allow children who have to work for a living to attend after work.
In the year 2000, there were 78,600 primary schools in Bangladesh, half of them run and managed privately but with many of the private schools receiving government subsidies. NGOs have been successful in the promotion of education in poor villages without schools and have facilitated the entry of working children into primary education through flexible timed non-formal programs.
The Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) has overall responsibility for the management and supervision of formal primary education. It maintains around 38,000 government primary schools, supports 9,700 non-governmental ones, and employs 161,000 teachers. The support to the non-governmental schools that are entirely privately funded through high fees and these do not get government support.
Improvements in enrolments
The importance of primary education has led to a government drive to increase enrolments in the 1990s. During the period 1992-1997, the number of primary schools increased by more than half, and enrolments were increased by 41%.
There have been added efforts to ensure the greater participation of girls through community mobilization schemes, employing a greater number of female teachers and locating schools within easy reach of their homes. The enrolment of girls has now achieved parity with boys.
In addition, about 70% of eligible children from poor families are in primary education. Around 70% of the mothers and 50% of the parents of children currently enrolled in school are illiterate, showing that Bangladesh is on its way to significantly reducing illiteracy in the next generation.
Role of NGOs in the education of Bangladesh
NGOs are also active in the delivery of primary education in the country and they target the economically most disadvantaged children. They teach more than 2 million students and use their own innovative curriculum and teaching methods. The largest NGO running primary education is BRAC who has enrolled 1.3 million children and is mainly located in one-room schools in poor rural communities.
However, given that the total number of primary school students in Bangladesh is close to 20 million, NGOs are still reaching only about 10 percent of students. This means that the quality of the public sector and the state-supported schools are critical for ensuring that primary education of high quality can be delivered to the nation.
The secondary education system in Bangladesh covers the next 7 years of education in secondary schools, colleges, and degree colleges. As with primary education, the administration of secondary education is highly centralized.
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) is in charge of 13,800 secondary schools, 900 intermediate colleges intermediate section in about 800-degree colleges.
The enrolment ratio of 44% in 2002 was about half the enrolment ratio of the primary sector, showing a sharp drop in education take-up rates. This is in line with other low-income countries where many young people have an economic necessity to take up jobs as soon as they leave primary school to support themselves and their families.
However, the quality of the secondary education sector is critical in training the next generation of students who will go into the more demanding sector is critical in training the next generation of students who will go into more demanding jobs in management, or into tertiary education to provide highly skilled specializations for the economy.
What happens to school-leavers?
A survey conducted in 1993 on the destination of secondary students completing secondary education found that 70% entered tertiary education and 30% entered the labor market. Those entering the labor market were equally divided between wage employment, self-employment, and unemployment.
The question here is whether the skills and learning imparted in this sector are the most appropriate for the jobs that secondary school leavers are likely to find in Bangladesh.
The increasing globalization of the economy means that school leavers who want to find jobs in public or private sector management need skills to operate in a global economy. These skills include a high degree of competence in English and mathematics, as well as knowledge of the global economy. At the secondary level in Bangladesh, students have to make a choice between science, humanities, and commerce. In 1997, 21% opted for science, 50% in humanities, and 29% in commerce.
This reflects the fact that most school leavers in Bangladesh seek jobs at the management level in the public or private sectors. But unless the secondary school education system in Bangladesh is training students for participation in the global economy, and economy, and for contributing to the development of the Bangladesh economy, education will not be playing its full role.
The tertiary education system includes the universities and degree colleges affiliated with universities.
In a developing country, tertiary education is a privilege for relatively few students. This is reflected in the very low enrolment rate of around 6% in Bangladesh. However, the Bangladeshi enrolment rate in tertiary education is lower than the South Asian average of around 10% and the low-income country average is also 10%.
Growing private sector
In 1998, Bangladesh had 11 public universities and 16 private ones; both figures have steadily increased, but particularly for private universities. The private universities are based mostly in Dhaka and Chittagong.
They charge high fees and are therefore not accessible to poor students. The University Grants Commission is in charge of allocation finance for the public universities and approves the setting up of private universities.
The growth of private universities in Bangladesh reflects a growing demand within the country for a quality university education that the public sector cannot provide. The public universities face problems with completing sessions on time due to stoppages that are caused by political mobilizations by small numbers of students.
The disruptions faced by public universities are unfortunate because it means that students from poorer backgrounds are forced to suffer a poorer educational experience. On the other hand, private universities do not have the capital to invest in science teaching which requires laboratories or access to teaching hospitals, and instead, the private universities concentrate on humanities and business.
This skews the specialization in the university system away from sciences towards humanities, social sciences, and business management.
One of the limitations of the tertiary sector in Bangladesh is that it is not closely connected to the needs of business or industry. In 1990, only 39% of enrolments were in science subjects like agriculture, engineering, and architecture.
This reflects the problem that most of these subjects are taught in public universities for the most part, and yet they are critical to the economic success of a country like Bangladesh.
Most universities in Bangladesh also do very little research, and this too is a function of universities in most countries. Funding for research can be increased in the future if the university reaches out to try and identify research needs in the private sector and in the industry and try to raise money from the private sector to carry out this research.
This type of collaboration with the private sector is most likely in science areas like engineering, product design, or architecture.
The experience of neighboring India shows that economic success depends critically on the involvement of the tertiary sector in providing skilled and highly specialized manpower for specific sectors, together with research that can add to the competitiveness of the economy.
Skills development and technical training
There is a parallel system of education that critically addresses the absence of specific skills. In Bangladesh, this area of training is referred to as technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
This education is not about literacy but about occupational skills and can be accessed by students at secondary and tertiary levels of the educational structure. It includes formal institutional education as well as non-formal and informal education.
The existing TVET system in Bangladesh is very small, taking up only 2% of the education budget, and enrolling around 30,000 students at the certificate and diploma levels. In addition, there is a training available for non-formal areas such as livestock, pisciculture, and poultry farming.
Around 30 NGOs provide occupational skills training to around 2,000 students. In addition, 160 non-profit vocational schools deliver courses on tailoring/sewing, embroidery, electrical, carpentry, radio, and television repairs, refrigeration, and so on. It is estimated that around 200 pirate trade schools provide non-formal training connected to the export of semi-skilled manpower.
Clearly, vocational training is very underdeveloped in Bangladesh, and few opportunities exist given the size of the population and the scale of needs.
A major problem in Bangladesh as in many other countries is that vocational training is seen as less prestigious and therefore does not attract the best students, even though it is the type of education that is most likely to make an immediate difference to a person’s earning capacity.
Greater efforts in financing higher quality skills training and linking these to economic opportunities in the domestic and international markets are likely to make the educational system in Bangladesh more relevant for enhancing the likelihood of students.
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