The education system that we see in today’s Bangladesh is basically inherited from British-India. Expansion of education among the mass people started during that period. Very little improvement in the education sector was noticed during the Pakistan period (1947 -71). Bangladesh’s Independence of 1971 opened the door for the country to adopt development strategies in all sectors of human life, including education sector development. The country has made remarkable progress in the field of education during the first four-and-a-half decades after Independence. Major improvements happened during the 1990s and afterwards. The government policies regarding development of this particular sector, community initiatives, and involvement of the non-government organizations collectively, made this possible. However, a lot remains unfinished. Expansion of education in some areas, combating corruption in the education sector, assurance of quality and equivalency, and removal of disparity at all levels of education are the challenges of our education system. Samir Ranjan Nath’s book “Realising Potential: Bangladesh’s Experiences in Education” is an attempt to look back at the journey of Bangladesh in the field of education during the period of 1971 – 2015. The author minutely examines the policies and plans in the education sector and identifies disparities as well as areas for improvement in this crucial sector.
The book contains three articles. The first article is the principal one, which reflects the overall country status and the way forward. It examines the national level policies, plans and programs undertaken for the development of all streams and subsectors of education (i.e. primary, secondary, college, madrasa, technical and vocational, and university) during the first four-and-a-half decades of Bangladesh, and highlights progress made in these sectors. It is no doubt that a significant improvement in access to all levels of education has occurred during the last 45 years of Bangladesh. The increase in the number of educational institutions as well as the participation of girls at all levels of education is a great achievement. However, progress in the quality of education is not satisfactory. A recent study conducted by ‘Education Watch’ indicates that our primary education system has become exam-centric rather than child-centric. Many independent studies have also raised questions about the quality of teaching-learning at both primary and secondary levels.
Our universities are under pressure to fulfill the increased demand of tertiary education. But this sub-sector, the author observes, faces two major challenges: i) Lack of seats to accommodate all interested school graduates, and ii) Inability to provide research and other facilities to students already admitted in universities. Tertiary education can play a vital role in sustainable human resource development as well as in various aspects of further development of education, including teacher training, curriculum planning and assessment. It is therefore important, the author recommends, giving emphasis on capacity building of university education in Bangladesh through collaboration of Bangladeshi universities with the universities of developed countries.
The second article “BRAC’s Non-formal Approach to Primary Education” is a case study which explores the country’s largest non-formal approach to primary education. This article analyses the quality of the BRAC intervention in pre-primary and primary education, gathering data and findings from studies conducted during the past three decades. BRAC started working in the education sector with a functional literacy program in the mid-1970s when the literacy rate was very low in the country, with female literacy rate far behind than that of males. In 1984, this non-government organization started to think about school program for young children when primary school enrolment rate was 58% in Bangladesh, with girls far behind the boys. Keeping joyful learning in mind, BRAC initiated an experiment to develop a unique non-formal education model for the underprivileged children to equip them with basic reading, writing and numeracy, along with life skills and social studies. The number of children who received education from BRAC schools is less than that of the government schools, but as a single organization its contribution has been next to that of the government.
Addressing the youth population is crucial as they are the most promising section of our population in the context of nation building. Starting with the trends in the youth population in the country, the third article of this book focuses on education provisions and attainments of the young people, along with the relationship between education and labour force participation. At the end of four-and-a-half decades of Independence, Bangladesh has the highest youth population in its history. Today’s youth have greater educational qualifications than those of any other time in the history of Bangladesh. However, we are, the author observes, in the dark about the quality of education that our youth are acquiring at post-secondary phase (i.e. university level). The youth who are not in education, training and employment are also our major concerns as limited access to learning for young people, combined with a lack of employment opportunities, is likely to lead to social unrest. Similarly, the absence of ‘youth voice’ in policy planning and decision-making processes can increase young people’s frustration. The education system of Bangladesh needs to respond these challenges. A participatory educational planning process, the author argues, is therefore needed, where the youth will have genuine chance to have a meaningful input. Emphasis must be given on the other important issue – the promotion of life-long learning opportunities for the youth, which is a part of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-4).
An equitable quality education plays the key role to sustainable development of a country. Ensuring quality education is a major challenge for Bangladesh, including the creation of an equitable learning opportunity for all people through reducing various types of disparities. Strong political commitment, realistic target setting, an appropriate implementation strategy, capacity building for resource utilization, and adequate investment are very much required for the development of education in Bangladesh. The book “Realising Potential: Bangladesh’s Experiences in Education” will obviously beneficial to all who are interested in challenges and issues as well as planning and development of Bangladesh Education. The author Samir Ranjan Nath was educated at Jahangirnagar and Oxford Universities where he obtained his Master Degrees in Statistics and Educational Research Methodology respectively. A leading education researcher in Bangladesh, Samir is currently working with the Research and Evaluation Division of BRAC. The author deserves appreciation for his tireless efforts to produce this brilliant academic piece of writing.