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Dhaka Tribune

Checking primary, secondary level dropouts still elusive

Experts say that the dropout issue can be still be reduced if the GDP investment in the education sector is raised

Update : 20 Apr 2023, 08:41 PM

Eleven-year-old Farid Mia has been working as the helper of a leguna (human hauler) driver for the last six months to help his family in Dhaka. 

The boy makes up to Tk500 a day – a crucial amount his struggling parents need badly to run the family. 

He now aims to be a leguna driver so his contribution gets even bigger as his rickshaw puller father and domestic help mother grapple with meeting the growing family expenditure. 

A school dropout after the third grade, Farid starts his day early and works till 10-11pm – and there is no way he can resume studying now. 

Taniya Akter, 17, was an 11th-grade student in Mymensingh when the pandemic unfolded in 2020.

With her college shut immediately, Taniya stayed at home and eventually stopped studying as she could not afford an electronic device to join online classes. 

The teenager ended up getting married. 

Now a mother of one, Taniya works as a housemaid in the capital. She regrets not being able to secure higher education.    

These two case studies are among a vast number of dropouts in the country, where only 32 out of 100 students enrolled in the first grade manage to continue to the secondary level. 

According to a recent report titled "National Survey on Children's Education in Bangladesh 2021", more boys drop out than girls at the primary level. 

The survey was conducted in a total of 9,000 houses across the country from December 21, 2021, to January 10, 2022. Jointly conducted by Unicef and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the study was revealed on March 16. It says the overall primary school dropout rate was 3.1% (4% boys, 2.3%) when the survey was carried out.

The figure at the higher secondary level was around 7% (6.4% boys, 7.8% girls), while the dropout rate at the SSC level was in between those of the primary and HSC levels.

 The dropout rate, regardless of education level, was 4.9% with insignificant differences across the background characteristics, the survey reads. 

Among all the divisions, Mymansingh saw the highest number of dropouts.

The factors behind dropouts are poverty, child marriage, high-priced note-guide books, compulsory coaching and weak teaching system, it says.

A long closure of educational institutes during the Covid pandemic also contributed to the situation. 

School closure due to Covid-19 as a reason for child marriage accounted for overall 5.1% cases, where it was high at 19.3% among children aged 15-17 years and low at 4.1% among adolescents aged 18-19 years, the study says.

Educational institutions were closed on March 17, 2020 due to Covid, and partially reopened on September 12, 2021. The 543-day school closure in Bangladesh was one of the longest in the world.

Experts said that dropout can be still be reduced if the GDP investment in the education sector is increased.

Academic Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal said the government must raise the GDP allocation for the education sector.

“In our country, only 2% of the GDP is allocated to education, which should be 5%,” he suggested.  

The rate of dropout is more among marginalised children, to which the government needs to pay attention, he added.

 A top official of the Directorate of Primary Education admitted the fact that many students drop out of school and face learning losses despite measures in this regard. 

“We have been trying to address the issues," he said.

The total number of students from the primary to higher level of studies was more than 45 million as of January.

Of them, more than 20.09 million are students of more than 118,000 government and non-government primary schools.

There are more than 8.9 million students in around 19,000 government and non-government secondary schools

During the pandemic, 18.7% of school-going children attended online classes and 50.3% of children had no devices to do so. 

The study mentioned that 18.7% of primary and secondary schools implemented remote learning during the school closure.

On this front, Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said that even though Dhaka had the proper internet speed but it was not the same for places outside the capital.

Television and smartphone cannot be an ideal alternative to the indoor education system, she argued.

Speaking about child marriage being one of the key reasons for dropouts, Rasheda said the actual number could be higher and there is a need to have scientific data on that. 

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