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Govt claims success, experts say much more to do

Mohiuddin Alamgir

The government claims that it has achievements in the education sector made in the past five years while teachers and experts say that a number of issues are yet to be addressed and the education minister keeps thinking quality education still to be a big challenge.
Many government steps, including nationalisation of about 26,000 primary schools, banning coaching business of teachers, formulation of education policy, new curriculum for primary and secondary education, introduction of Class V and Class VIII completion examinations, timely free distribution of textbooks, ensuring  gender disparity in primary and secondary education, have eared praises.
Although the National Education Policy was framed in 2010, its implementation was going on at a snail’s pace, the policy implementation committee members said.
They said that many key elements of the policy, including enactment of an education law for the implementation of education policy, setting up a permanent national education commission and forming a non-government teacher selection commission and an accreditation council for universities, were yet to be addressed.
The Awami League’s 2008 election manifesto had said, ‘A permanent pay commission and a separate service commission will be instituted for teachers.’ No such commission has yet been instituted.
Although the education ministry formed a committee in early 2011 to formulate a separate pay scale for teachers, the committee was yet to make any significant progress.
‘We do not see any progress in framing a separate pay scale. Many other demands of the teachers are also yet to be addressed,’ said Bangladesh Government Secondary Assistant Teachers’ Association president Mofazzal Hossain.
‘We are trying to bring teachers under the pay commission the government formed for the public servants,’ said a high official in the education ministry.
Teacher leaders said that the Awami League had promised that ‘a higher salary scale for teachers will be ensured’ but in reality, ill-paid teachers were finding it hard to make ends meet. Low pay and benefits force the teachers to try to seek out means to earn extra money, they added.
Assistant teachers in government primary schools, who are Class III employees, get less than what government transport drivers, who enjoy the same status, are paid a month. Primary head teachers, who are also of the same status, however, get a little more than government drivers or other staff do, teacher leaders said.
Secondary level teachers get poor salary and about one lakh teachers, who are not on the monthly pay order, get no salary, house rent and medical allowance from the government, they said.
Public university teachers in Bangladesh are paid less than what their fellows get in many other countries on the count of purchasing power parity. The teachers, who are also paid less than their fellows in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said that they could hardly live a decent life as university teachers with their salary.
‘No one can live on such meagre salary and benefits amid living cost spiral,’ said Shikkhak Karmachari Oikya Jote chairman Selim Bhuiyan.
There are about one million teachers from primary to higher education in the country.
The manifesto had said that ‘educational institutions will be rid of terrorism and session backlogs’ but at least 20 students were killed in the last five years as activists of the ruling party-backed students organisation Bangladesh Chhatra League clashed with opponents and fought among themselves to establish supremacy and taking over the campuses.
Students of most public universities and all colleges under the National University are gripped with prolonged academic life.
In the Vision 2021 the AL declared in the manifesto, the party set a target of increasing net enrolment at the primary level to 100 per cent by 2010 and elimination of illiteracy by 2014.
The government is set to miss the target as about 7.2 crore adult people, which account for about a half of the population, are still illiterate, said Manzoor Ahmed, adviser to the Institute of Educational Development at BRAC University
According to the Literacy Survey 2011 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, published in July 2013, the functional literacy rate is 53.7 per cent for the population in the ranges of 11–45 years.
The primary and mass education ministry claimed that net enrolment at the primary level was 99.47 per cent but experts, including Manzoor, brushed aside the claim.
The government’s approval of 25 new private universities mostly on ‘political consideration’ in the last two years of the tenure earned heavy critics. The government failed to control errant private universities which continued flouting the law. They have yet to move to own campuses, which they were supposed to do in seven years after establishment. They are still running illegal outer campuses, which is prohibited by the law. Some of them are mired in ownership conflicts and handfuls of the universities are into research, which is mandatory for them.
Many public universities including, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Jahangirnagar University, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Comilla University and Khulna University remained in turmoil over the face-off between teachers and vice-chancellors over allegation of corruption, irregularities and nepotism.
All public universities but Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University are being run by non-elected and government-nominated vice-chancellors, without elections to students unions and with unelected representatives of registered graduates in the Senate. Huge allegation of nepotism and appointment of partisan people also marred image of public universities.
The education minister, Nurul Islam Nahid, said, ‘During the past five years, the education sector has witnessed reforms and epoch-making progress.’
The government has taken many initiatives for teachers as it has provided monthly pay order benefits to, over 1,600 schools and 1,214 teachers and maternity leave for teachers in non-government institutions for six months, said Nahid also the primary and mass education minister.
The government increased the house rent and medical allowance for teachers enlisted for the monthly pay order and upgraded the status of assistant teachers of government secondary schools to Class II and appointed about 75,000 teachers in primary and secondary schools.
Necessary action for expeditious enactment of education law and step regarding separate pay scale for teachers would be taken, he said ‘It is true that we have failed to do many things we had plans because of financial constraints,’ he added.
Nahid said that quality education still remained a big challenge.

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