Education systems in disrepair

Today's Bangladesh Today contains a viewpoint with rare mojo and enlightenment for an English Language paper in Bangladesh. It looks into the heart of what education is, what secularism really is and points to a faithful, superior and practical alternative. I think.

At various times the society and government of Bangladesh have thought about translating the educative impetus of Islam without hiding behind the term 'secularism'. But not seriously enough i'm afraid. It is explainable given the weaknesses of both society and government there.

To generalise the three streams of schooling: we have a small set of people who know and care little about their islamic inheritance coming out of the English Medium, a larger set whose Islamic curriculums and facilities aren't that optimal, and a majority set who are locked into Bengali.

Its really not an ideal way to go about getting the best out of your citizenry. The issues present need to be seriously engaged with from an Islamic worldview, without
a) the 'damaged-goods' secularism that so sadly still afflicts the establishment intelligensia,
b) the 'damaged-goods' anti-radicalism pap that still afflicts the White Studies Regime, and
c) the NGO vultures who exploit the cracks in social structure.
Their 'participation' has been observer you see.

Sane committed Muslim scholars and educationalists have looked into this education issue all over the Ummah and all over South Asia. There is a mixed body of critical work, literature and activism out there is anyone is so much as interested.

Progress probably won't come from the government. The Awami League are allergic and occasionally come into power, the Rightists are plain mean and corrupt for no reason and the elves have sailed to Valinor.

This mojo comes, and is coming from the believers who mobilise their resources and creativities in alignment with the spiritual and social objectives of the deen. Expect it to be misreported, unreported or underreported, that is the nature and function of the debaucherous media. Best listen for it and assist if you are able, probably bypass Dhaka if you can. Best not 'go work at BRAC', but then again, are we ever able to learn from other people's mistakes?

Consultancy in raising quality of primary education!

NGOs should be disqualified to do the teacher training job in Bangladesh for the glaring and well known fact that they are hardly nationalistic in approach but pursue extra-territorial objectives particularly in matters of value formation.


The falling quality of Primary Education in Bangladesh since 1972 is nothing new to all those who cared for it and kept on tracking the issue as qualified professional educators. It is also true that the other further levels, as well, has been having the same fate as all levels are interlinked, and dependant on each other, particularly the higher ones. It, therefore, appears fairly reasonable that the present Caretaker Government (CG) took up the issue seriously to do something about it and so appointed a NGO, BRAC, to improve the quality by offering training to some teachers, possibly, on experimental basis. . It may be taken as one of their good intentions, no doubt, as they have many good wishes in many other areas, but there are few puzzling questions that they obviously need, at the same time, to ponder about seriously on a priority basis.

First, the question is raised if the CG has enough time to take up the task that can not be considered a mean one but a continuing process of lot of variables impinging on the system of primary education involving many socio-economic realities. Second, has the government taken for granted that the huge government administration particularly for Primary Education has failed to do their task for which they are all paid from the public exchequer, and if so, to get rid of them all? Third, have all the teachers as a group proved inefficient to keep their teaching quality high, and if so why? Fourth, whether the BRAC as a big NGO has been asked by the CG to provide their ‘consultancy’ service to work as Aladdin’s Wonder Lamp for raising quality of Primary schooling through training of some teachers in their own way in Bangladesh?

Improving quality of primary schooling for young children that the educators listed as items of terminal competencies in reading writing, arithmetic, comprehension etc involves many critical factors that remained integral for decades with the overall socio-economic milieu. The first one could be traced as poverty of parents so much so that many children, if not the majority, more often than not go to school ill-fed, half fed or even fully hungry. Such malnourished or hungry young children can hardly accept class lessons even if the teacher would offer his best effort for imparting teaching for pupils’ learning. That remains one of the main reasons for drop-out from year after year until the last primary class or fifth year retention rate being not more than 50%. In advanced countries like Britain where schooling until age 16 is compulsory at free of cost, for example, poorer pupils are normally given a small bottle of milk each day during school Tiffin hour, completely free of cost for the most poor and at subsidized nominal price for those from well off parents for keeping the school children full of energy to take efficient lesson from teacher. There is no question of any drop-out until age 16 or tenth class and no fail to be ousted from school until that statutory age limit is reached. Illiteracy of parents of Bangladesh that many rural and slum dwelling parents of big cities are, is another negative factor against quality learning of pupils as they get little or no help at home for learning.
In the school campus, so far as learning aids are concerned, though books are provided by the government in primary schools, other essential learning aid materials like paper, pencil, instruments etc. are difficult to provide by the poor parents, neither have schools any budget to supply them to the needy learners. Such paucity affects learning quality.

Apart from the above constraints, there is wanting for well qualified, trained and self-motivated teachers. It is not that the teachers have no diploma or degree of colleges and universities. In fact, they have those required diplomas. In addition, many of them have undergone teachers training (One year Certificate in Education, B.Ed., etc) as well. The government primary schools have nearly all trained teachers (95% for rural and 97.3% for urban as of 1998, State of Primary Education in Bangladesh, UPL, 2001, p.8). The private schools and other institutes like Ebtedayee Madarassas, kindergartens etc., however, lag behind in number of trained teachers. Provided the 54 Primary Teachers Training Institutes would remain fully functional and if need be expanded further in their capacities, training of the untrained teachers should not be difficult to provide. In addition, the old idea that the primary school teachers need not have university degree should now be forgotten as in advanced countries many Ph.D.s teachers in many primary schools.

The institutes and colleges might need though reorganization not only in terms of operational mode but also in curricula contents. Psychological motivation for dedicated teaching may be an essential addition to the current syllabus for many teachers, as far as I know, lack in this regard. That teaching is a noble task for service above self unlike many other professions/vocations is unfortunately almost a lost idea in our midst. I still recall many of my dedicated teachers at the primary in early 1940s having no regular salaries but a paltry lump sum of Grant in Aid money, secondary and college/ university at home and abroad who had been totally committed and dedicated ones that I fortunately experienced. I don’t mean to say that the poor Bangladeshi teachers would have no good pay for their service, but what I mean to say is that the teachers should be the role models in teaching to draw satisfaction from and incentive of spiritual kind.

The BRAC’s Chairman in a statement made days before said that they would offer ‘model’ training for 3000 schools’ teachers’ in 20 Upazillas free of cost of the government and at the BRAC’s own expense. The philanthropy looks wonderful. But the government should clarify the prior issue as to why their 54 teachers’ training institutes could not do the required training job equally efficiently, if not more effectively. Why can’t they compete in efficiency with what the BRAC could do? On account of what positive benefits the teachers’ training is being proposed to be entrusted to one of the NGOs here in Bangladesh? Information about benefits, if any, should be given to all concerned for knowledge and understanding. And nothing should be imposed arbitrarily from the top.

To me, NGOs should be disqualified to do the teacher training job in Bangladesh for the glaring and well known fact that they are hardly nationalistic in approach but pursue extra-territorial objectives particularly in matters of value formation. Thus teachers trained by them, in all likelihood would accept their values that may ultimately impinge adversely on young minds of school pupils that may not help healthy social transformation but inhibit it so far as the beliefs and values of overwhelming majority people of Bangladesh is concerned.

As far as my understanding goes, NGOs provide signals for material incentive that attracts the extremely poor people for obvious reason for meeting their first of the basic needs, food for hunger. The proposed BRAC involvement of secular nature in teachers’ training devoid of contents of spiritual elements and incentive in training process would only further deteriorate, I am afraid, the quality of Primary schooling in Bangladesh.

I would rather feel that the teachers’ training model developed and termed as Faith Based by the great educator and the founder V.C., the late Professor Dr. Syed Ali Ashraf of the Darul Ihsan University, Dhaka for B. Ed. and M.Ed. courses I happened fortunately to be involved with for a few years in their design and operation could be worth trying for improved quality and motivation of the trained teachers in the profession in primary schools, as well.

(M.T.Hussain;795/2 Ibrahimpur, Dhaka-1206. 20 July 2008)

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