Prioritising primary education

Published: 21:46, Nov 08,2019 | Updated: 00:13, Nov 09,2019

 
 

The police drag away a protester during demonstrations of the Bangladesh Primary Assistant Teachers’ Alliance near the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka in the fourth week of October. — New Age/Sony Ramany

It is time the government revamped the entire education system with a special emphasis on primary education. The government should think seriously about investing a minimum of 5 per cent of the gross domestic product in education, writes Sheikh Nahid Neazy

HUNDREDS of primary schoolteachers went on demonstration in Doyel Square in Dhaka on October 23 to push for their demand for an upgrade in the salary structure for assistant teachers and headteachers. Their demand appears to be just and logical. Besides, it is an issue of dignity and esteem. Their voice, unfortunately, did not reach the policy makers. They were treated inhumanely by the police on the city raods. They wanted to hold protests at the Shaheed Minar but could not reach the place because of the police barricade when the police also beat them.

The government in 2017 agreed to their proposal for an upgrade of their positions keeping to the eighth national pay structure. The ministry of primary and mass education also proposed that it would upgrade the salary structure — the 10th grade for headteachers and 12th grade for assistant teachers. But, in September 2018, a letter signed by the deputy finance secretary said that there was no need for any upgrade in the salary structure. Since then, the primary teachers have raised their voice for the upgrade. It has, however, been two years since the government promised to meet the demands in principle.

The headteachers were previously considered to be Class III government employees and used to get salary accordingly. Later, the government upgraded the position to Class II government officers. But, unfortunately, they did not get the expected salary keeping to the restructured position. Still, assistant teachers with training get salary in the 14th grade and teachers without training in the 15th grade — which is equivalent to the position of a government stenographer.

During the latest demonstrations, they demanded the 10th grade for headteachers and the 11th grade for assistant teachers. But, according to a parliamentary committee meeting of October 30, it was decided that headteachers of government primary schools would get the 11th grade and assistant teachers the 13th grade. They also recommended the revision of the recruitment policy where the upazila assistant education officer’s position would be upgraded to the ninth grade. Likewise, the position of headteachers would be upgraded to the 10th grade.

There are 65,902 primary schools in Bangladesh with 3,25,000 assistant teachers and 42,000 headteachers being employed. The finance ministry is also reported to have initially agreed to allocate the required budget for the payment of increased salary to the teachers. Why is then the government delaying the decision? Primary schoolteachers who lay the building block of the nation were treated badly by the state.

This is disappointing that teachers usually suffer from identity crisis in terms of their social status, dignity and financial benefits. Is it not humiliating that a schoolteacher gets less salary than that of a computer operator or an accountant? A recent job advertisement in a national daily newspaper offered Tk 8,000 for an assistant teacher and Tk 10,000 for a computer operator. How are meritorious students, in a situation like this, expected to take up this profession by choice?

The standards of education at both the primary and secondary levels is low, but we seem to be complacent with the quantity — in terms of expansion and the free distribution of books as every year begins. According to the Education Watch Report 2018–19, prepared by the Campaign for Popular Education, 55 per cent of English and mathematics teachers in secondary schools are not specifically trained to teach the subjects. The situation is more appalling when it comes to the report having revealed that 75 per cent teachers, without training, teach physics; 78 per cent teach chemistry, and 64 per cent teach general science without proper training in the subjects. The report also shows that most of the teachers depend on guidebooks, instead of textbooks, because they can readily access the answers therein. This is how an untrained instructor teaches a subject, without taking much care of the students. Most of the teachers, indeed, are not at all aware of or trained in standard teaching-learning activities — how effectively students can learn and how creatively they can solve the problems.

Neither the government nor school authorities are serious about teacher training. The government, rather, superficially claims that it has successfully introduced two public examinations, the Primary Education Completion and the Junior School Certificate, at the primary and the secondary level. This is unfortunate that despite strong opposition and repeated appeals from educationalists and intellectuals, the government is yet to dispense with the two examinations. This has encouraged more teachers to get involved in commercially running coaching centres which make children’s lives difficult. This private coaching culture in education must come to an end.

Without a strong base in primary education, children will not be able to cope with the challenges and keep pace with the changes in higher education. If the government fails to understand the need for meritorious students in teaching in schools by offering competitive pay, the future generations will not get quality education, which eventually will hamper the sustainable development.

It is time the government revamped the entire education system with a special emphasis on primary education. Children will grow confident and be skilled human resources only when they get proper and quality education that help to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, team-building, communications, tolerance, integrity and empathy. The government should think seriously about investing more money, a minimum of 5 per cent of the gross domestic product, in education.

 

Sheikh Nahid Neazy is chair and associate professor, department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.

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