THE government’s plan to install escalators in 163 government secondary schools, mostly in district and upazila towns, at the cost of more than Tk 11.16 billion comes as a surprise, a shock too, as the effort seems to be wrongly prioritising issues that are pressingly needed to be done in the national education sector. As part of a school modernisation project, involving Tk 46.4 billion for 323 government secondary schools, that the National Economic Council approved in March, the authorities have planned, as New Age reported on Tuesday, to install escalators in 163 schools mostly having four to six storeys while many other pressing issues such as shortage of teachers and inadequacy or lack of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, playgrounds and other educational infrastructure have continuously been left unattended. Besides, in the schools that have only up to six storeys, staircases will be easy for both the students to climb and for the school management to maintain. While escalators will take more space that staircases do, the authorities will need to retain staircases alongside the escalators. Educationalists and economists have, therefore, rightly called such a move nothing but a ‘waste of public money, unrealistic and bizarre.’
Education authorities have time and again come up with fund constraints as reasons for not being able to attend to so many issues that are central to national education, such as the development of educational infrastructure, teacher training in changes in the curriculum and syllabus, the publication of teachers’ manuals, and an adequate arrangement of libraries and laboratories. Yet leaving these issues behind, attending to issues that are of lower importance, and cosmetic, especially in education, seems to be quite baffling. Besides, the elevators will need continuous power supply, which could be a problem in view of the power outage that is typical of areas outside the cities and mostly during school hours during the day. Education authorities, however, sought to explain that Bangladesh should not lag behind other countries that have schools with escalators and students visiting such countries might feel poorly privileged. But such a comparison is intensely required in the quality of education that Bangladesh lags behind other countries. Bangladesh might need escalators at one point, but that has to happen after everything that is mostly needed for a national education system happens. Without attending to the core issues, cosmetic development might give a false sense of complacency, but it would, in the long run, remain unmeaning.
The government must, under the circumstances, step backwards on its decision to install escalators in the schools and use the money in areas of the education system where it is most needed. The government plan at hand has also given rise to a perception that this could provide for an excuse of corruption, to unduly advantage companies that provide escalators and to make space for others involved in the process to grab some public money. The Anti-Corruption Commission would do well in looking into the issue, urgently and in earnest.
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