Education Sector Gets Entangled in Controversies -Abu Tahir Mustakim
What is happening in the education sector of Bangladesh? What is the reference country for education that can be replicated in Bangladesh? Tanzania or Finland? There is a lot of discussion and criticism about the new curriculum. Teachers are struggling to understand various aspects of the curriculum. Parents are worried about the annual summative assessment of students. They said this new curriculum is inappropriate for this country. They said to reinstate the evaluation system based on marks and grades as it had been before.
On the other hand, books for compulsory education are not printed on time. Those textbooks are not reaching their destination on time. The complaint of plagiarism in those books. Accusations of misinformation in books. Because of that, book withdrawal happened in the second month of the year. It is said that initiatives have been taken to make the nation suitable for the fourth industrial revolution. Is it a sign of that? According to the data, the children of the nation’s leaders are studying and staying abroad. But what is the future of the education of the children of ordinary people in the country? After 50 years of independence, where stands the nation’s education system? Is Bangladesh going to face an existential crisis due to the wrong education policy?
At the end of the academic year in Bangladesh, there is a lot of discussion and criticism about the new curriculum. The police arrested four people, including the parents and teachers, as the parents protested against it logically. As this criticism spread through various media, the Education Minister herself was forced to respond.
As before, the process is not limited to learning-teaching activities alone. As this teaching method is new to most of the teachers, it seems time-consuming and complicated to understand. The teachers received only five days of training to understand and teach this curriculum. Many have not even received this training.
The Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education sent the guidelines to schools at the beginning of November about how to do the collective evaluation process in this curriculum. The teachers are struggling to understand the various aspects of the curriculum. Teachers will mark triangles, circles, and squares by evaluating the students based on the index.
According to the information in the ‘Grade Development Policy’ section of the guidelines, two factors will be considered to advance a student to the next grade. First, the student’s school attendance rate, and second, subject proficiency. If any student has 70% class attendance, s/he will be considered a regular student and can be passed to the next class. Secondly, if a student’s achievement level is in the ‘square’ level in all the competency indicators in the transcript of a maximum of three subjects, s/he cannot be considered for the next class.
One of the aims of the new curriculum is to reduce the pressure of exams on students as well as encourage practical learning. But at the end of the year, students and parents are seeing the opposite picture. Parents are worried about the annual summative assessment of students. They especially fear that the students will be held hostage by keeping the assessment with the schoolteacher.
According to the new curriculum, students’ achievements are indicated in the transcript through indicators such as triangles, squares, circles, etc. Looking at these indicators, the parents do not understand their ward’s intellectual development. What they are learning in school and what to teach at home. They are struggling to buy various educational materials to make projects according to the new curriculum. Among them, the students and parents of villages are facing the most problems. It is also a matter of question whether this will affect the dropout rate of students from poor families.
In addition to this, the school assigns some projects for the students to complete independently. But in many cases, it is seen that the students are doing the project in collusion with a family member or somewhere else outside the family. It does not involve the student’s learning.
As with individual projects, the new curriculum has group project work for students in the classroom. Due to the large number of students in the classroom, teachers and students have to face various problems with teamwork.
Parents Unity Forum says that it is not possible to run this new curriculum with a few days of training for teachers. Implementation of this curriculum will not be possible unless adequate training is provided to them. Otherwise, this curriculum will fall flat, like a creative method.
The Parents Unity Forum held a press conference to this end. In the conference, eight-point demands were made, including the complete cancellation of the new curriculum and the introduction of the examination system. They said to do away with the triangle mark and make the evaluation system based on marks and grades as before. They said this new curriculum is inappropriate for this country.
On the other hand, not just the Prime Minister or the Minister of Education; officials also talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is being said that students should be trained to suit this revolution. The question is: how are buzzwords such as “Fourth Industrial Revolution” understood, and what is happening on the ground in the thousands of secondary-level institutions across the country?
The First Industrial Revolution started in the 1780s, using water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second, beginning in the 1870s, used electric power to create assembly lines and lead to mass production. The Third, starting in the 1960s, used electronics and information technology, also known as digital technology, to automate production. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) now builds on the digital revolution.
The latest Industrial Revolution blurs the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres in an unprecedented way. The 4IR is radically different since it is more than just a technological shift in economic production, as the previous three were. It opens unlimited possibilities for addressing the critical challenges of poverty, inequality, and sustainable development.
The education authorities—the two divisions of the Bangladesh Ministry of Education and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board—are engaged in a review of school curricula in the context of 21st-century challenges. What is more important than formulating the curriculum is finding effective ways of implementing it. Teachers—their skills, professionalism, and motivations—are the key here. The decision-makers of today find it difficult to free themselves from the trap of traditional, linear thinking. The numerous, urgent crises that come knocking on their doors every day are absorbing them too much.
School students in Bangladesh were disappointed as they came across mistakes in some of the textbooks. National Curriculum and Textbook Board officials said that the amendments would be uploaded on its website and sent to educational institutions by the end of this month. Meanwhile, many students are yet to receive free textbooks due to delays in printing. At least 28 percent of the primary and 25 percent of the secondary students did not obtain their textbooks, said NCTB officials.
In the book ‘History of Bangladesh and World Civilization’ for Classes IX and X, it was written on page 200 that ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took oath as the prime minister from Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem on January 12, 1972. On the same day, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was appointed president.’
But as is history, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took the oath as the country’s prime minister on January 12, 1972, from Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, who had already been appointed as the country’s president.
The same book, on page 181, says that ‘The Pakistan army engaged in torture, genocide, and destruction between March 26 and December 16 across Bangladesh.’
The Pakistani army started the genocide in Bangladesh on the night of March 25, 1971.
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board has been stuck in a loop of controversies centering on school textbooks with academics, with some NCTB officials blaming it on the negligence of writers and editors, insufficient training, and a lack of serious punishment for blunders.
In 2013, textbooks contained some gross mistakes, and the authorities could hardly change things since then as this year’s books were not error-free.
There is also an allegation of plagiarism in one of the textbooks distributed free among the students in line with the fresh curriculum introduced on the first day of this year.
But no punishment has been handed to any writer or editor for the mistakes; the only visible action was transferring a few NCTB officials or making them OSD.
The NCTB introduced new textbooks under the new curriculum for Class I, Class VI, and Class VII this year. The newspapers analyzed the English book for Class VI and found several mistakes. Mistakes were also found in three textbooks for the ninth and tenth grades. A media article raised the allegation of plagiarism in a science textbook for Class VII. The contents of the National Geography Educational website were translated into Bangla using Google Translate and used in the first chapter of the book without mentioning the source. Prof. Muhammed Zafar Iqbal and Prof. Haseena Khan admitted that the allegation was true. Even though they were not the writers of the parts in question, they were still responsible as editors.
Earlier, in the new textbooks of 2013, there were some serious and embarrassing mistakes. The media reported that more than 200 errors—misinformation, wrong names of writers, and mistakes in sentence making—were found in the Economics book for students of Class IX and Class X.
Besides, 52 errors were found in Islamic education books, and 24 were found in Hindu education books. Some of the mistakes sparked countrywide criticism.
Moreover, almost 100 errors were identified in the Chemistry, Mathematics, and Higher Mathematics books in that curriculum.
In Bangladesh, out of the total budget of Tk 678,064 crore for Fiscal Year 2023, the allocation for the education sector is Tk 81,449 crore, or 12 percent of the total, compared to 11.9 percent in Fiscal Year 2022.
But it is disheartening to read the latest UNICEF report that says that only 34 percent of third graders in primary schools can read texts from their books properly and that only 18 percent of them have foundational numerical competency. This is the general picture of primary education in the country, and it is even worse for children coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
A third grader is, on average, almost 10 years old, by which time s/he should be able to acquire reading, writing, and numerical skills. It is alarming that 66 percent of them lack these basic skills. This situation has put the entire nation at risk.
There is indeed a political debate about the judicial system in Bangladesh. Still, the High Court gave directions on the country’s education system in 2017. The apex court directed the government to formulate a strategic law on education titled ‘Bangladesh Education Code’ in the next year. ABM Nurul Islam, a seasoned Supreme Court lawyer, filed a writ petition, and the High Court bench of Justice Salma Masud Chowdhury and Justice AKM Jahirul Haque reached the decision. It is not clear what the government has done about that directive. However, there was no impression of that instruction in the field of education of the nation.
Because politicians and bureaucrats have no interest in building the nation, what kind of personal and family benefits they can take seems to be their goal. They have kept their children away from the country due to political rhetoric and uncertainty. They are educating their children in reputed and expensive educational institutes abroad, building houses, and buying cars there. Hundreds of millions of takas are being smuggled out of Bangladesh every year. But who cares?
All these ministers, politicians, and bureaucrats are seemingly alien to this deltaic land. Either they do not understand the reality of Bangladesh or they knowingly want to push the country towards a dysfunctional state. Because those for whom they are running the country may not want the good of Bangladesh. They may not want Bangladesh to stand tall on the world stage. They may not want Bangladesh to become their rival. As a part of this conspiracy, these unrealistic events are happening in the education sector of Bangladesh.
Thus, public and private university students are not satisfied with their academic experience. Specifically, they are stating, ‘’Most of our national wealth is in the hands of a few people… this education system just builds modern slaves who will dedicate their lives to make someone else rich, while believing they are making career progress. This slave-generating system is not for 99 percent of the people. This is not an education system at all.’’
We have already lost significant returns from Bangladesh’s demographic dividend because of a poor education system. Substantive changes are needed here if we are to train, brainwash, and unchain our learners. Unfortunately, a vested class of incompetent people who rule the roost in education revel in their power base but display a dearth of ideas and an unwillingness to confront and shape change, while the nation remains shackled. If this state of affairs continues, “outsourcing” the training of our youth will grow while our universities languish.
There is no denying that students must enjoy learning, and the educational authorities will have to ensure the creation of a congenial environment in institutions. At the same time, greater attention should be given to those falling behind—otherwise, it would spell disaster for a whole generation of the country.