Unfortunately, after four decades of independence, the quest for equality in access and opportunities has remained elusive for the education system of Bangladesh. People from poor socio-economic and marginalised groups are not enjoying equality of educational opportunities. Truly speaking, they are excluded from all level, primary to university, of our educational planning.
A unified system of primary and secondary education has not been established. As a result, the divisions and discrimination in educational provisions, reflected in separate streams of government, non-government, private, and English medium schools and madrassahs (both quomi and aliya) exist in our education system. Gap between the standard of education in urban and rural areas is widening day by day.
The results of PSC, JSC and SSC indicate that the best institutes are city/district level schools and cadet colleges with most of their students coming from well-off families. Most of the students who failed to pass these exams are from the rural institutes. According to the recently published ‘2012 UNICEF Report’, even though children in towns and urban cities are considered a step ahead from their rural counterparts with better access to educational facilities, in most urban areas in Bangladesh great opportunities and great deprivation exist side by side.
Children living in low-income urban areas and slums are deprived of almost all basic rights and facilities including education enjoyed by their peers from well-off families. Dropout rate is still high among these children as their parents could hardly meet the costs of schooling, even where schooling is free of charge, families can be burdened with the costs of uniform, books and supplies.
There is also inequality in our two-year higher secondary education. Due to poverty, many students are failing to continue their study. Private owned colleges’ educational cost is beyond the reach of the lower-middle class a people. There is also a gap in the standard of education between urban and rural areas. Most of the GPA-5 achievers are from the colleges in urban areas. Higher education that is offered in our country through public universities, private universities and colleges under National University is merit based, selective and competitive.
Access to higher education is limited mostly to socio-economically advantaged families who can invest money on private tutoring and other necessary support for their children for 12 years of schooling. Usually, students from comparatively low socio-economic classes study in the colleges of National University Private universities are solely for the students of the well-off families as the tuition fees and other educational expenses are beyond the reach of our mass people. Needless to mention that these private universities are money-making ventures. Most of these universities’ quality of education is questionable. There is gender disparity in access to higher education, as many female students cannot continue their studies for various reasons.
For sustainable development, our education system must be inclusive and pro-people. Our government should remember that ‘Access to Education’ is a fundamental right recognised in many national and international documents. The Articles 17 and 28 of our Constitution tell that the State is bound to adopt effective measures to ensure education to the people of Bangladesh.
How education system of Bangladesh can be re-directed to help fight exclusion and poverty, promote human development, create the conditions for life with human dignity for all, and face the challenges of the 21st century, should, therefore, be a paramount concern of our government.