DhakaTribune
Saturday September 23, 2017 02:32 AM

Realising our potential

Realising our potential
Quality education and human development go hand in handMAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

On this International Literacy Day, we must reflect on our own education system

The world today is changing, at a fast, unprecedented pace. The wave of technology and communications have by far taken a central position in how we conduct our lives and business.

There has been sustained economic growth in some South and East Asian countries, paralleled with population growth at a very high pace. Technologically well-connected, young adults and children are offering the high potential of capitalising the demographic dividend presented by the respective population pyramids of these countries.

The scale of internet users and rise in online connectivity has penetrated through rural and remote areas, and really shrunk the global village even further. Unless these advancements are under-pinned by a quest for the pursuit of knowledge, a well-balanced, positive mental attitude, the consequences of this uneven global wave could be very lopsided.

A scary future

Interestingly, while there is growth on one hand, across middle-income countries, the inequalities are also widening sharply. By 2030, an additional 1 billion people will be living in urban environments facing multiple hazards and rough living conditions.

The number of natural disasters have increased five times more today, than they were some 40 years ago. Conflict is lasting the longest since World War II, with civil wars lasting at an average of 10 years.

In this polarised scenario, children are severely affected and their progress is slowest.  Globally, more than 200 million children under age five do not reach their full potential due to lack of early childhood education. 59 million primary aged children are out of school. Girls represent 50% of this out-of-school population and if current trends continue, it will be 2086 by the time the last girl in Africa is able to go to school.

Now more than ever, education has a responsibility to foster the right type of skills and behaviours that will lead to an inclusive and progressive world

This is far too slow, dreadful, and disastrous to even imagine. More than 250 million children, which is one in four primary aged school children, are not learning to read and write, despite being in schools or other educational settings.

This global learning crisis is costing governments $129 billion a year as 10% of global spending on primary education is being lost to poor quality that fail to ensure that children actually learn once enrolled in schools.

Poor quality education is also leaving behind a legacy of illiteracy more widespread than previously believed. Around 175 million young people in poor countries, equivalent to around one quarter of the youth population, cannot read all or part of a sentence.

Persistent dropouts

More than ever before, a good quality education which enables meaningful learning, seems a fundamental, single most important factor for human progress.

Education and human development go hand in hand. The most recent Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR) for 2016 emphasises the centrality of education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The benefits of completing primary and secondary education are substantial, not only for individuals but also for families, communities, and countries at large.

More educated men and women are more productive and income generating, live longer and healthier lives, are resilient to the impacts of climate change, and have higher rates of political participation. The benefits for educating girls have a further long term, inter-generational impact.

Even though Bangladesh has done phenomenally well in maximising primary level enrollments and closing the gender gap at primary, an estimated 5.5 million children still remain out of school.

The characteristics of these children are typically those of disadvantaged population groups: Born to economically very poor parents with large household sizes, lack of sustained income which often leads to child labour; located in marshlands and char areas which remain under water for almost half of year, discriminated on the basis of gender, disability, ethnicity, and are further challenged by the lack of adequate, safe, and context appropriate educational facilities and infrastructure.

A huge majority of those who enroll in schools are unable to read, write, and comprehend what they are being taught which makes education a dismal experience for them. Early grade literacy is the foundation of a lifelong journey of learning and self-enhancement.

It is sad to see that vast majority of children in Bangladesh struggle to read and understand even simple Bangla language text. According to Bangladesh’s Ministry of Mass and Primary Education statistics, 25% of students in grade three are unable to read simple sentences.

Reading with fluency and comprehension levels are even worse, especially for younger children in grades one to three. Since except for English, all other subjects are taught in Bangla language, hardly any systematic, quality learning can take place. Language literacy remains very limited and burdened by this struggle, high student dropout levels persist especially during transition from primary to secondary schools.

Education transforms

On international literacy day, it is important to recognise that for literacy to play a transformative role, in support of quality education, business as usual will not work. We need to fundamentally change the way we think about life long literacy and its role in human well-being and global development.

Now in the current global scenario, more than ever, education has a responsibility to foster the right type of attitudes, skills, and behaviours that will lead to an inclusive and progressive world. The education community needs to act with a heightened sense of urgency reaching out beyond traditional boundaries and creating effective partnerships at all levels.

Dimensions of quality have to be the central pillar for planning, implementation, and policy making in education sector. Teachers and educators are crucial partners who need to use their professionalism and commitment to ensure that students once enrolled, learn to read with fluency and comprehension, and proactively apply their learnings in and outside of schools.

In Bangladesh, a systematic push towards quality is going to be an innovation in itself. All new investments in education should be evaluated against a set quality criteria to ensure that children, especially those lagging behind, are able to acquire early grade literacy and reading skills essential for their lives in the 21st century.

A systematic process of continued improvement is needed that tackles with barriers to learning, evaluates the results of on-going innovations, and uses evidence to consolidate successes, and alter course where needed.

As Bangladesh is on its rightful trajectory to emerge on the global stage as a middle-income country, evidence based, quality centered education interventions are needed to realise the full potential of this gifted country.

Bushra Zulfiqar is the Director for Education at Save the Children, Bangladesh.

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