Published in The Independent on Saturday, 31 December 2016

Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus, BRAC University Vice-Chair, CAMPE

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030 with a pledge to “transform our world” was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations. Earlier in May 2015, the World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, Korea, set the ambitious Education 2030 agenda,  to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Education 2030 agenda is reflected in the SDG for education (SDG4), one of the 17 SDGs.

SDG 4 is an opportunity to address various challenges in education and necessary re-thinking regarding priorities of actions in education by 2030 focusing on the immediate future and beyond in Bangladesh. The commitment of Bangladesh government, as reflected in various  documents about vision and plan – the Seventh Five Year Plan 2016-20 (7FYP), Vision 2021, the Perspective Plan 2010-2021 – need to be   critically examined from the SDG perspective.

Official and Civil Society Perspectives

The thinking and discourse about the post-2015 development agenda of the Government and Civil society have been expressed in documents prepared in 2013 by the General Economic Division (GED) of the Planning Commission and Civil Society (People’s Forum for MGD–PFM).

There is substantial commonality. Both, for example, emphasize implementation of compulsory education up to grade 8. Livelihood and life-skills are given priority in both. Quality inputs with adequate facilities and sufficient trained teachers are also given priority. There are also differences.

PFM highlighted basic education at the early age for children and youth and skills and capacity development through lifelong learning. This reflects PFM’s priority to human capability, agency and dignity as a central element in sustainable human development. GED’s education goal focused on formal education and expanding access and completion of the formal education stages.
The GED agenda emphasized mainstreaming the current TVET program which served around 6 percent of the secondary school age-group.

PFM puts stress on skills and capability of workers to be developed in diverse ways. It mentions ‘skills for all” through expanding opportunities and participation in lifelong learning.
GED takes a conventional view of literacy with an “elimination” target date of 2020. This ignores past negative experience and the global lessons regarding meaningful and functional literacy as part of continuing learning opportunities. PFM proposes literacy as a component of planned and well-supported lifelong learning activities in every community.

Transparent, accountable and participatory governance is emphasized in PFM. More resources for education, specifically, setting a target for 6% of GDP for education and 4% for health is proposed in line with the overarching goal of placing human development at the centre of the vision for the “world we want.”

Critical Areas of Action
Considerable groundwork has already been done. The job now would be to refine, elaborate, and ensure consistency with national priorities, especially giving attention to issues which have not been addressed adequately. An 11-point agenda is proposed.

First, public funds for education, as share of GDP/national budget, should double during 7FYP. One of the lowest positions globally for Bangladesh in this respect is not acceptable and must be reversed.

Second, education development projects such as post-PEDP3 for primary education, Secondary Education, and TVET subsector planning should reflect  SDG4/ED 2030;  a facilitative education law should be adopted and a statutory permanent education commission should be established. The existing national objectives and targets as regards education included in 7FYP need to be placed in and aligned with the framework of the targets and indicators of SDG4/Education 2030 and overall SDGs.

Third, new thinking about teachers is needed – in respect of numbers, quality and performance – including pre-service education course in degree colleges.  Four key elements in this plan can be: (a) the creation of a National Teaching Service Corps (NTSC) with high remuneration and prestige,
(b) introduction in the four-year general degree program (BA or BSc) of education as a subject,
(c) attracting bright young people with stipend and lure of NTSC job into a teacher preparation track, and (d) ensuring high quality of this degree programme by enforcing quality standards in at least 100 government degree colleges in the country.

Fourth, priority must be given to higher education quality, especially national university degree colleges, rather than just expansion. With three quarters of tertiary enrolment in these colleges, they are the suppliers of primary and secondary teachers. Their poor quality creates a vicious cycle in education, which must be addressed with urgency.
Fifth, non-formal alternatives for out-of-school children have to be effectively funded. Three to four million children of primary school age are still out of school, either because they have never enrolled in school or have dropped out early.  A second chance programme must be a part of the main strategy for universal primary education in order to serve out-of-school children of all kinds – dropouts, working children, those in remote areas and those in special need.

Sixth, expansion of pre-primary education and early childhood development (ECD) with acceptable quality have to be supported.  A GO-NGO collaboration guideline of MoPME should be implemented with public funding support. No specific target for early childhood development below pre-primary has been set, only scattered activities for young child development mostly by NGOs are in existence.

Seventh, lifelong learning including literacy as a first step has to be supported with a network of CLCs Core resources have to be provided by the government, partnership modalities have to be developed among government, NGOs and communities; and a viable program for literacy as the foundation for lifelong learning through networks of community learning centres (CLCs) and wide and equitable access to ICT have to be developed.

Eighth, change is required in supply-driven skills development with low quality, low market relevance, minimal attention to apprenticeship and needs of the informal economy. Overall TVET participation is low for the secondary education age-group—even lower for females. But expansion of TVET within the present structure, without major reform, will not help reaching the target.
Ninth, a significant increase in the revenue share of GDP and enhancing revenue-raising capacity of local government bodies should be considered for necessary increase in education budgets.  At the same time, two pragmatic measures would be an education cess or surcharge, and tax incentives for individual and corporate contribution to education.

Tenth, external aid strategy for education needs redesign in light of SFYP/SDG4. It is necessary to engage in dialogue with the development partners on a continuing basis for predictable support to fulfil the SDG4 agenda appropriately adapted and indicators for assessing and reporting progress elaborated.

Eleventh, all school education should be under administrative jurisdiction of one Ministry. Present division of responsibilities under two Ministries creates problems in curriculum continuity, student assessment, teacher preparation and supervision, and developing, guiding and implementing an overall quality-with-equity strategy in the national education system.
This is not an exhaustive enumeration of the issues which should be considered for the 7FYP and SDG education agenda, but these are highlighted because these have been neglected or not given due consideration so far.

[This article draws from a longer report “Reaching Education 2030 – A Framework for Action” under preparation by Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE)]