Education liberates the intellect, unlocks the imagination and is fundamental for self-respect.
On 25-27 September 2015, the world leaders met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and adopted a historic decision on a comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centred set of universal and transformative Goals and targets. With a pledge to “transform our world”, the Heads of States, Governments and High Representatives announced 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets for 2030. They committed themselves to working tirelessly for the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030. Despite a plethora of limitations, the present government has managed to take up some programs or projects in line with the overarching goal of placing human development at the centre of the vision for the “world we want.”
SDG styled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” is an Agenda of unprecedented scope and significance. It’s been formally accepted by all countries and is now applicable to all, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world – developed and developing countries alike. They are integrated and indivisible. They also balance the three dimensions of sustainable developments. The government of Bangladesh is committed to achieving sustainable development in its three dimensions - - economic, social and environmental - - in a balanced and integrated manner. The government also wishes to build upon the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and seeks to address their unfinished work by 2030.
Education is a fundamental human right and is indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development. To ensure “inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” is one (SDG 4) of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The government of Bangladesh has already managed to expand pre-primary and primary education at rural areas through some effective initiatives/programs in line with SDG 4 so as to make development consistent and sustainable. As part of these initiatives, the government – though slowly – is trying to implement “National Education Policy 2010” step by step because it has to face the challenges of 21st century and build well-educated and technologically skilled human resources by ensuring quality education and creating lifelong learning opportunities for all.
According to UNDP, since 2000 there has been enormous progress in achieving the target of universal primary education. The total enrolment rate in developing regions reached 91 percent in 2015.There has also been a dramatic increase in literacy rates, and many more girls are in school than ever before. These are all remarkable successes although progress has been tough in some developing countries due to high levels of poverty, political conflicts and other emergencies. Bangladesh has achieved some successes in some areas - - children enrollment rate (99 percent) in schools and literacy rate (73 percent) in the last ten years. Besides, students’ dropout rate in primary schools has decreased noticeably.
Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. And obtaining a quality education is crucial to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. However, in light of SDG 4, the government of Bangladesh has set out to achieve the following targets:
• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education
• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
• By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
• By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
• By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
• By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults - both men and women - achieve literacy and numeracy
• By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including - among others - through education for sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
• By 2030, build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
• By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers through international cooperation for teacher training at all levels of education
Some significant progresses made by the present government are worth mentioning here. Every year, on 1st January, students – from preprimary to secondary level - get their new textbooks for free. This day is also observed as “Textbook Celebration Day.” In 2018 more than 35 crore books have been distributed among the students. Since 2017 session, more than 2 lac textbooks written in ethnic languages – Chakma, Marma, Sadri, Tripura and Garo – have been distributed among the indigenous students. ICT education has been made compulsory from class- Six to class- Twelve. With the enterprise of the Ministry of Education, “Bangladesh Bhavan” was constructed in Shanti Niketon, India, and the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Bhavan on 25 May 2018. Some projects - - Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement Project (SEQAEP), Generation Breakthrough, Secondary Education Sector Investment Program (SESIP), Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI) and Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) - - have also been implemented by the government.
Now it’s time to focus on ensuring quality education at all levels and promoting skill-based education to face the 21st century’s challenges and meet the demands/needs of the competitive job market. And to achieve the goal (SDG 4), the government needs to establish good governance at educational institutions and curb corruption in this sector. The government also should take into consideration the following recommendations:
a) The government should increase the annual budget up to 6 percent of GDP for education.
b) The government should be seriously working on implementing the “National Education Policy 2010” in a faster pace.
c) The government should form a permanent “Education Commission” (for primary and secondary levels) with appropriate role and independent authority to guide and monitor education reform in line with SDG 4.
d) The government should scrap PEC (Primary Completion Examination) and JSC (Junior Secondary Examination) immediately to help the children get rid of redundant exams.
e) The government should upgrade primary education (from class- Five) to class- Eight according to Education Policy 2010 immediately.
f) The government should force the school authorities to provide the students with transport facilities to ensure road safety.
g) The government should build a National Training Institute (NTI) for training, especially for teachers at primary and secondary levels.
h) The government should form a separate “Pay Commission” for teachers (primary, secondary and tertiary levels) and offer lucrative salary with other incentives/benefits so that the truly meritorious students come to this profession.
i) The government should launch Higher Education Commission (HEC) replacing University Grants Commission (UGC) immediately and make sure this commission works effectively and independently without any political or bureaucratic pressure.
j) The government should amend “Private University Act 2010” immediately by inserting certain provisions – guideline for teachers’ recruitment, lucrative pay package with all benefits (research fund, scholarship opportunities, PF, gratuity/pension scheme, earned leave encashment and etc.), promotion policy, right to association, retirement age, service rule, statute, financial accountability, adequate physical facilities and etc. – so as to safeguard the academic staff and ensure quality education at private-sector universities.
k) The government should make sure the Accreditation Council acts independently without any political bias and makes active links with the globally accepted international accreditation bodies.
l) The government should appoint the bright academics, with integrity and leadership skill, for the positions of Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice Chancellors at the universities.
m) The government should open a separate Ministry for Human Resources in order to periodically assess the needs of the job market and maintain a database of the graduates passing out of the universities and help create adequate jobs in both public and private sectors.
n) The government should implement the “National Skill Development Policy 2011” effectively and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
o) The government should take stern actions against those who are involved in leakage of question papers and find effective ways of stopping this in all exams.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy, Associate Professor, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.