Bangladesh made remarkable progress in school education with an increasing number of students enrolling for lessons, especially female students in the rural areas where education was once highly discouraging.
Religious barriers and family pressure for early marriage coupled with the traditional belief that girls thought to be a burden for most poor families led to many rural girls discontinuing their education.
Such time-honoured beliefs and social and religious barriers today are history as parents and students demand the right to education. Massive awareness of the benefits of education over the past decades has immensely contributed to such social changes where parents convincingly send their children to free schooling now.
Mosammet Afroza, a housewife in Parulia in Gopalganj, said, “I was married at the age of only 14. My father was determined and had consulted no one in the family about the hurriedly arranged wedding. It was considered a sin if anyone then opposed such proposal, even within the family.”
“I realized that I could not complete my education and the same fate happened to my younger sister,” a grim face of Afroza narrated.
Afroza who is now 58 continued, “I have not made the mistake which my father did to me. I have ensured pursuing education for my only daughter and fulfilled her dreams to marry after she graduates.”
Education, especially for girls, has been a key factor in the social advancement. Today pursuing free schooling has increasingly become a cultural practice and the habit of children attending schools can be distinctly noticed in rural areas.
Over the decades Bangladesh has made significant gains by ensuring access to education, especially at the primary level and for girls. The country’s net enrollment rate at the primary school level increased from 80 per cent in 2000 to almost 99 percent today, and secondary school net enrollment is now around 54 percent, up from 45 percent in 2000, says a World Bank report.
It said, the percentage of children completing primary school is close to 80 percent, and Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in access, in addition to dramatic decreases in disparities.
In addition to free education, stipends, and free textbooks, better infrastructures, hygienic toilets, and cleaner school environments are some of the major reasons why such improvements are evident in the school education sector in the country.
Bangladesh’s development partner, World Bank, looking at the success very critically, also praised the achievements.
The World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, Abdoulaye Seck told Bangladesh Post, “Bangladesh is among the first and few developing countries to achieve gender parity in school enrollments with now girls accounting for more than half of secondary school enrollment up from 17 percent in 1970. Yet, the retention of female students remains as an issue, which was exacerbated during the COVID.”
Seck said, “Several studies show that social norms, such as disproportionate distribution of household chore responsibilities, early marriage, movement restrictions and safety concerns, lack of information on sexual and reproductive health contribute to female dropout and lost years of schooling.”
Elaborating on WB’s partnership, Seck continued, “The World Bank is supporting girls’ education with stipends to attend school, hygiene and sanitation facilities for girls, as well as, activities to promote overall well-being of female students. Its innovative school stipend programme, now replicated in other countries, resulted in a major increase in girl’s secondary school enrollment in rural areas. The World Bank is the largest external funder of Bangladesh’s education sector with an ongoing program of $1.8 billion covering primary, secondary, and tertiary education, as well as vocational training.”
The success is not just remarkable but also a miracle.
The Chief Economist and Director for the Economics and Evaluation Directorate in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in UK Professor Adnan Khan has said they consider Bangladesh as a major ‘unsung’ development success story with ‘miraculous’ growth that is often not told around the world.
Prof Adnan, who has focused his career on advancing the understanding of development economics, political economy, entrepreneurship, and public sector reform, said they hold Bangladesh's accomplishments as a great example for other developing countries.
Professor Adnan made the remarks while in Dhaka in mid-September while exchanging his views with a local news agency.
"From extremely challenging circumstances, Bangladesh has grown to be a miracle story. And the miracle is not just in terms of economic growth, we all know the story, but also reflected in other dimensions - human development and access to education help other dimensions," he said.
Speaking to her exclusively, Rasheda K Choudhury, the former advisor of the caretaker government and the Executive Director of Campaign for Popular Education (Campe), said, “The achievement came based on mainly three major factors - closing the gaps of gender disparity, formulating favorable policy to allow more girls attending schools and introduction of stipend.”
“There has been phenomenal development in girls’ participation in education,” Rasheda said, adding, “Thanks to years of advocacy and awareness campaigns which has given positive results. Studies show that there is huge demand for education, especially female.”
The other factors, she mentioned about are ensuring female teachers and menstrual hygiene in school toilets. “We have been pursuing the government to implement these in a wider scale. Surveys already show a very positive response, especially female students prefer female teachers in classes for confidence and security.”
Rasheda, however was critical of the stipend amount which she said was too small an amount considering today’s rising inflation rate.
Another report says that Bangladesh has made significant strides in increasing access to primary education in recent years. The Annual Primary School Census 2021 reports that nearly 98.7 percent of primary-school-aged children are enrolled in schools, indicating near-universal access to primary education.
Additionally, Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in primary and secondary schools, with almost 50 percent of girls enrolled in primary and about 55 percent in secondary schools.
The achievements came at a huge cost. The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has always prioritized school education by allocating the highest amount in the national budgets – no wonder Bangladesh’s primary education is known as the largest in the world.
The budget allocation for the education sector has been increased by around 25.04 percent in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023-24. In the proposed budget, the government has allotted Tk88,162 crore in total for the education sector.
The amount was Tk 70,507 crore in the revised budget of fiscal year 23-24. The new budget is Tk17,665 crore more than the revised budget.
It also heavily invested in expanding schools where necessary, especially in inaccessible areas and remote hilly places.
Currently, Bangladesh's primary education system is one of the largest in the world with 1.6 crore students and nearly four lakh teachers. The primary education enrolment rate in Bangladesh is 98.7 percent.
“Bangladesh’s education system is making remarkable progress. The government has been prioritizing the sectors by allocating more budget while the issue of quality education and address the dropout rates are also major concerns,” said Yakub Ali, a head teacher of a government school in Dhaka who often participates in policy-making decision meetings.