1.A Historical Overview
1.1 Bangladesh is a small country with a large but hard-working and resourceful population. It shares borders with India in the west, north and east, Myanmar on the southeast and has the Bay of Bengal to the south. Ninety-eight percent of the population speaks Bangla with varying and rich dialects. The other two percent includes ethnic groups, having their own language with rich cultural heritage. Bangladesh gained its freedom through a short but intense war of liberation in 1971. The struggles for liberation began earlier with the Language Movement of 21st February, 1952 when students and people rose as one to protect the dignity of the mother tongue. UNESCO has recently proclaimed 21 February as the International Mother Language Day, in honour of the language movement martyrs, which is observed globally every year in recognition of the native languages of peoples of the world.
1.2 Start of formal primary education in the Bangladesh region dates back to 1854 and literacy activities at individual initiatives to 1918. At liberation in December 1971, the literacy rate in the country was only 16.8 percent. Bangladesh has since made remarkable advances in championing the causes of education and making it a serious public purpose. Historically, education had been the exclusive preserve of the elite and, mostly the male. As time passed, female education was encouraged by allowing co-education as well as by setting up some separate institutions for girls. However, progress and participation in education remained limited. It fell on the Government of Bangladesh, after independence, to lay the foundations of an extensive education system. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, adopted in 1972, acknowledged education as a basic right of the people and enjoined on the State to ensure the provision of universal and compulsory free primary education to all children, relating education to the needs of the society and removing illiteracy. The Government nationalized and took over 36,165 primary schools in 1973 and regularized it under the Primary Education (Taking Over) Act of 1974, and declared 157,724 primary school teachers as government employees. Primary education was free and made compulsory under the Primary Education (Compulsory) Act 1990, implemented initially in 68 upazillas (sub-districts) in 1992 and extended to the rest of the country from 1993.
1.3 The first National Education Commission, headed by the eminent scientist and scholar Dr. Kudrat-i-Khuda, made substantive and forward-looking recommendations on pre-primary and primary education, among others. To emphasize the importance of primary education the government separated it from the Directorate of Public Instruction and set up the Directorate of Primary Education in 1980. The government took up two Universal Primary Education (UPE) projects in 1981 on limited scale, one with donor support and the other with government’s own funds. The projects introduced some measures to strengthen field level supervision with appointment of Assistant Thana (now Upazilla) Education Officers (AUEOs), appointment of female teachers with relaxed qualifications, etc. At the same time, the government also started a massive Mass Education program to impart literacy to illiterates. Such measures led to an increase of literacy rate to 24.8 percent by 1991.
1.4 Focused initiatives taken during the decade of 1990s, following the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) held at Jomtien, Thailand have resulted in remarkable progress in basic education at both formal free and compulsory primary education (FCPE)and literacy and non-formal education (NFE). Except for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh leads all other SAARC countries in net enrolment ratio (85%). More remarkably, Bangladesh has already achieved the MDG goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education. A social mobilization approach has energized popular demand for education. Such progress has been acknowledged in the inclusion of Bangladesh in the medium human development group of countries in UNDP ’s HDR ranking since 2003. Notwithstanding the progress, the fact that daunting challenges remain is widely acknowledged. National development planning and successive budgets have identified and accorded highest priority to education and literacy as a major intervention strategy, both for human resources development and poverty reduction in order to raise the quality of life of the people.
1.B PRSP and EFA Challenges for the Coming Decade
1.5 Bangladesh formulated an overarching national development strategy in 2005 under the title Unlocking the Potential with the twin goals of accelerated poverty reduction and attainment of MDGs. Popularly referred to as the PRS it weaves together various sectoral strategies into a coordinated whole so as to maximize overall social gains including accelerated poverty reduction and achievement of MDGs. Commensurate with the Dakar Framework for Action, PRSP has sought to contextualize EFA goals for Bangladesh in the coming decade. It is clear that access has been the defining pre-occupation of the past decade and a half and this has borne fruit as exemplified by enrolment and gender parity statistics and the entry of Bangladesh in UNDP’s medium human development league of countries. The success has not only been on the supply side. The demand side too has been as responsive; even the poorest families have come to value education and give high priority to the basic education of their children, boys and girls alike. It is not the case that the access goal has been won on all fronts. Specific segments of the population, particularly within the poor, ethnic groups and in remote locations, still have to struggle for access. Increasingly however, research on outcome indicators is driving home the point that access achievements are not necessarily translating into commensurate quality achievements. A paradigm shift towards a pre-occupation with quality while retaining the focus on equity has thus become an urgent necessity. In a way, such a realization has already been spreading but the sense of strategic urgency remains to be galvanized. The PRSP also underscores the point that the development of the quality agenda at primary, secondary and vocational levels is not driven by top-down expert approaches alone but take its cue equally from an analytically sound reading of the ground realities of school, community and administrative environments in which they are situated.
1.C Preparation of NPA II
1.6 Recognizing the strategic challenges of realizing EFA goals, Government of Bangladesh has adopted a programme approach and initiated the Second Primary Education Development Program (PEDP II), 2003-2009. This sector-wide programme is fully geared to attaining and improving the quality in all facets of primary education. The Government has also developed through an extensive participatory process a NFE Policy Framework to guide and ensure quality in all NFE activities. To bring all components within a common framework, Government also initiated an extensive participatory and professional process to review the achievements of the first national plan of Action (NPA I) and prepare a new EFA national plan of action or NPA II for the coming decade. An EFA Technical Committee and a representative EFA Forum provided the institutional architecture to oversee and complete the formulation of this action plan
The six EFA goals
(i) expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
(ii) ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
(iii) ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes;
(iv) achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
(v) eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
(vi) improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.