There are significant achievements in primary education of Bangladesh since 2010. Net enrolment rates have risen steadily, attaining 97.3% in 2013. Over the same period, the completion rate at primary level rose from 60.2% to 78.6%, says UNESCO Science Report 2015.
Gender parity at both primary and secondary levels has been achieved well ahead of the MDG target set for 2015. The percentage of girls attending school has even surpassed that of boys in recent years. The quality of education has also improved: according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, class sizes in secondary schools reportedly shrank from 72 to 44 pupils per class between 2010 and 2013.
Repetition rates at primary school level dropped from 12.6% to 6.9% over the same period, with a parallel improvement in the pass rate for the Secondary School Certificate examination and the closing of the gender gap for this indicator. By mid-2014, over 9000 primary school classrooms had been built or rehabilitated, with the installation of water and sanitary facilities.
Among the drivers of this positive change, the Education for All 2015 National Review identifies the conditional cash transfer to children from poor families at primary level and to rural girls at secondary level; the use of ICT in education; and the distribution of free textbooks to schools, which can also be downloaded free of charge from the government’s e-book website.
About five million children are still not attending school and the rate of progression from primary to secondary school (60.6% in 2013) has not improved. The review estimates that education plans should target the hardest-to-reach populations. It also pinpoints the need for a substantial rise in budgetary allocations to secondary and higher education. In 2009, the last year for which data are available, just 13.5% of the education budget went to higher education, representing 0.3% of GDP.
Despite low levels of funding, enrolment in bachelor’s and master’s degrees rose from 1.45 million to 1.84 million between 2009 and 2012, with particularly strong growth in S&T fields. Growth was most impressive in engineering (+68%), where enrollment in PhD programs almost tripled between 2009 and 2012. This augurs well for the government’s strategy of fostering industrialisation and economic diversification. Some 20% of university students are enrolled in a master’s program, one of the highest ratios in Asia, but only 0.4% enrols in a PhD program.
After several unsuccessful attempts, the first formal National Education Policy was adopted in 2010. Key strategies include providing one year of pre-primary schooling for all children; extending compulsory primary education from Grade 5 to Grade 8 by 2018; expanding vocational/technical training and curricula; making all pupils ICT-literate by the completion of primary school; and updating the syllabuses of higher education to meet international standards.
Both the National Education Policy and National Information and Communication Policy (2009) underscore the importance of using ICTs in education. For instance, the National Education Policy makes ICTs a compulsory subject of vocational and technical education curricula; universities are to be equipped with computers and relevant curricula; and training facilities specialising in ICTs are to be developed for teachers.
The Master Plan for ICT in Education for 2012-2021 sets out to generalise the use of ICTs in education. ICTs were introduced in 2013 as a compulsory subject for higher secondary school pupils intending to sit public examinations in 2015. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, the share of secondary schools with computer facilities rose from 59% to 79% between 2010 and 2013 and the percentage of secondary schools with internet shot up from 18% to 63%.
Science and ICTs for middle-income status by 2021 The Perspective Plan of Bangladesh to 2021 was finalised in 2012 to operationalise the country’s blueprint for becoming a middle-income economy by 2021, Vision 2021; one thrust of the Perspective Plan is to improve the quality of education, with an emphasis on science and technology. Curricula are to be upgraded and the teaching of mathematics, science and information technology encouraged. ‘An innovative people will be the backbone of the envisioned society in 2021’, observes the Plan, thanks to ‘a strong learning system from pre-primary to university levels and the application of research and STI’. Innovation is to be promoted in education and at work. Vast efforts will be made to develop IT through the Digital Bangladesh program, one of the pillars of Vision 2021, in order to foster a ‘creative’ population.
In order to provide the necessary impetus to achieve a Digital Bangladesh by 2021, the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology has been divided into two separate ministries. In its medium-term strategy for 2013-2017, the new Ministry of Information and Communication Technology evokes the development of a high-tech park, an IT village and a software technology park.