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Education in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has been facing daunting challenges in education. Although over the years, mention-worthy progress has been made at the primary level of education. Education at the secondary and tertiary levels have remained beset with a number of serious problems, such as poor enrolment rate, high dropout rate and low success rate in tests of academic capabilities. The end result is that, by some estimates, only 3 out of 100 every 100 potentially eligible young men and women in Bangladesh complete their graduation. This statistics has alarming implications both for the young people in a poor country like Bangladesh as well as for the progress of the nation in general. Such startling information can only help dampen the most of Bangladeshis when we know that the largest foreign exchange earnings come from the hard work and the sweat of the migrant labor of Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, formal education is funded and curriculum provided mainly by the central government. The system of local government is not well developed and furthermore, local government participation in and contribution to education is somewhat marginal. The role of the private sector in education especially at the secondary and tertiary levels has also been minimal. Many NGOs have supported informal education, particularly at preprimary and primary levels, but support for formal education is lacking. In terms of expenditure, Bangladesh spends about 2.7 percent of its GDP for educating its children, one of the lowest ratios in the world.

Secondary and tertiary level education in the rural areas is in particularly of dire straits. Not only poverty, but socio –religious factors and lack of exposure to modern ways are also important issues. The number of high schools per 1,000 children is discouragingly low compared to the urban areas; the facilities in high schools are dismally inadequate; and the quality of education cries out for improvement. In rural areas, colleges are few and they are mostly of very low quality. Better colleges are located in urban areas only. Colleges offering higher education and universities are hardly found in rural areas. As a result, in a poverty-ridden country like Bangladesh, an urban-rural divide with all its concomitants in education in the secondary and tertiary levels has also developed and was widening.

Formal education in Bangladesh is divided into 5 years of primary education, 5 years of secondary education, 2 years of higher secondary education and 2-5 years of higher education. At the completion of five years of primary education, no certificate was awarded till 2009 when the Government introduced terminal exam and required high schools to admit at class VI only those students who passed that exam. This is an important step of the government which enables the education system to “screen out” students who might be academically incapable of dealing with high school education. It eliminates some of the pressure on high schools to accept students and reduces the problems for teachers of trying to teach both fast and slow learners. But, on the other hand, it may also eliminate many potential students who may have merit but are deterred by financial constraints to compete in the terminal exams at any of the tiers.

Secondary education is divided into three cycles. Admission to the three year junior secondary cycle, comprised of Classes VI, VII and VIII, was based on an entrance examination conducted by individual high schools till 2009 when the government introduced a terminal exam at that level as noted above. On completion of Class VIII, students proceed to the secondary cycle, Classes XI and X, consisting of two years of either secondary education courses in high schools or technical/vocational courses offered at trade/ vocational schools. It may be noted that the government has announced that it would introduce a terminal exam at Class VIII starting from 2010 and might require only students that pass this exam to move on to Class IX. In the secondary education courses, Class IX students are separated into three streams: science, humanities (or arts) and business studies (or commerce). On completion of Class X, they take the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Examination, administered by the regional public Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE). Among successful students, those who can afford to continue go on to the 2 year higher secondary level in colleges, Classes XI and XII. At this level the following options are offered: science, including pre-medical, pre-engineering and agricultural options, humanities (or arts), business studies (or commerce), home economics, music and Islamic studies. On completion of this level, students sit for the Higher Secondary (HSC) Examination. Students opting for technical education in Class XI study for four years at polytechnic institutes where they obtain a Diploma in one of the following fields: surveying, or civil, mechanical, electrical, electronic, architectural, chemical, printing, ceramic or power technology. And the last level is the 4 years under graduate education. The most vital of all, which indicates the educational growth rate of a country.

Parallel to the main stream of formal education, there are 5 stages of madrasah education system (Islamic education) with 5 year ebtadayee, 5 year dakhil,2 year alim, 2 year fazil and 2 year kamil courses. The madrasahs are required to adopt national curricula as a condition of government recognition and support. Students are required to sit for the Public Examinations after completing courses of each level, except ebtadayee.