How did a nation like Bangladesh, beset by political turmoil, and economic and environmental challenges, manage to conquer illiteracy in just five decades? The achievement is indeed a wonder for the rest of the world.
According to the Sustainable Development Report for 2023, Bangladesh emerged as a leader in making strides toward achieving the SDG goal of quality education, surpassing the regional average.
Bangladesh’s path to success has been strewn with challenges, but the nation has met each obstacle with grace, achieving notable milestones, particularly in primary school enrollment, with a special focus on enhancing opportunities for the female population, and tertiary education.
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The government of Bangladesh maintains a commitment to ongoing initiatives that prioritize the education of children, which include compulsory primary education, free education for girls up to the 10th grade, financial support for female students, a comprehensive nationwide educational system, and a program providing food in exchange for education. At present, students and schools are provided with national curriculum books spanning from class 5 to class 12 without any charges.
Govt’s Drive Reduces Primary School Dropouts
The number of government primary schools in Bangladesh was 65,565 in 2022. In the year 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina nationalized 26,192 schools and the simultaneous establishment of government primary schools in regions previously devoid of educational institutions led to an upsurge in the total figure. The initial enrollment of primary school students in 2006 amounted to 16,001,605, and as of 2022, this number had experienced a significant increase, reaching a total of 20,546,099.
In light of recent progress, primary education in the country now boasts an impressive 98% enrollment rate for children. In 2006, the primary school dropout rate was a staggering 50.5% which by 2022 had decreased to an astounding 13.95%, signifying a remarkable improvement in access to and retention of primary education.
One vital government measure entails the distribution of free textbooks to students at the start of each academic year since 2010. From 2009 to 2023, a total of 1.514 billion textbooks have been distributed by the government. In 2023, an impressive 350 million books found their way into the hands of students, with 100 million designated for primary schools and 250 million for high schools. This initiative has not only improved literacy rates but also filled students with happiness as they eagerly receive brand-new books.
Moreover, the government has launched a stipend program to assist primary school students. Around 1.5 million primary school students now receive a monthly stipend of Tk 150, which is distributed through the MFS platform. Alongside the stipend, the government allocated an extra Tk 500 to each student to support the procurement of educational materials under the “Mujib Barsha” initiatives. This supplementary aid reached an impressive 14 million primary school students across the country.
Kazi Faruk Hossain,
Assistant Professor, Institute of Education & Research, Jagannath University
Breaking Barriers to Female Education
The primary school system enrolled a total of 80,81768 female students in 2006, but by 2022, this figure had significantly surged to 10,521,140. The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published the Global Gender Gap Report 2023, and it highlights Bangladesh’s remarkable progress in gender parity within South Asia. Achieving an impressive score of 72.2%, Bangladesh has now climbed to the 59th position in the global rankings, marking a significant leap from its previous rank of 71st only a year ago.
In 2006, there were 153,041 female teachers in Bangladesh. Fast forward to 2022, the number of female teachers had significantly grown, reaching 389,153, showcasing the expansion of women’s role in education in Bangladesh. The education that women received not only led to greater household earnings but a more skilled labor force and also empowered them to achieve greater social mobility. Positive vertical social mobility signifies an upward shift in their societal class as well.
The girls’ stipend initiative continues to serve as a significant benchmark, showcasing remarkable achievements in reducing dropout rates. A complementary project has also been implemented to address the needs of female students, including the provision of separate restroom facilities and the introduction of a curriculum to enhance the health and hygiene of girls.
Embracing Underprivileged Populations
Rising above the poverty cycle is the desired outcome for every underprivileged child. Numerous measures have been implemented by the government to enhance the educational inclusion of economically disadvantaged and small ethnic communities. Complying with the National Education Policy 2010, the education system now caters to the learning needs of children from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds and varying physical and mental abilities. Teachers from all over the nation have undergone professional development training in the field of inclusive education.
The ROSC Unit (ROSCU) within the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) is currently overseeing the implementation of the Reaching Out of School Children (ROSC) project. It is actively engaged in delivering primary education to out-of-school children in specific rural upazillas (sub-districts) across the nation.
In addition, the project offers alternative education to out-of-school children living in urban slums within 8 city corporations. Furthermore, the ROSC project provides pre-vocational training (PVT) to children and adolescents who have dropped out of the formal education system. To date, the project has extended support to a total of 690,000 out-of-school children. Students with disabilities, as well as those from ethnic and disadvantaged communities, are already receiving financial incentives to encourage their participation in formal education.
Other Initiatives to Elevate Primary Education
The government is taking steps to enhance education quality by implementing digital classrooms in primary schools. Over 22,000 multimedia projectors and one laptop have already been provided to nearly 53,689 government primary schools out of the 65,000 in the country.
The Mid-Day Meal Programme, initiated by the government in 2010, distributes 75 grams of fortified biscuits to roughly 3 million students across 104 upazilas. GoB is on the verge of extending its school meal program, aiming to provide meals to an additional 400,000 children attending 2,000 schools situated in 16 sub-districts.
SDG 4.2, a crucial component of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, aims to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education by 2030. In 2015, the Bangladeshi government, acknowledging the significance of early childhood education, mandated one year of pre-primary education before enrolling in primary school. Furthermore, as of January 2023, the government has extended this requirement to a two-year pre-primary education period at numerous pre-primary schools.
In conclusion, Bangladesh’s journey in conquering illiteracy in a short span of time is a story of resilience, determination, and effective governance. The nation’s commitment to quality education, reducing dropout rates, promoting gender parity, and reaching marginalized populations has propelled it to a leadership position in the pursuit of sustainable development and quality education for all. Bangladesh’s success can serve as an inspiring example for other nations striving to achieve similar educational goals.