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Dhaka Tribune

Government extends free primary schooling up to grade eight

  • Primary Education (Compulsory) Act of 1990 made primary education free till grade five
  • Implemented across the country in 1993
  • The first National Education Commission recommended free primary schooling till grade eight by 1983
Update : 22 May 2024, 10:00 AM

The government has decided to extend free primary school education up to grade eight, in line with the National Education Policy of 2010, to ensure quality education and prevent school dropouts and child marriages.

To implement this initiative, the government has also initiated a plan to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), sources at the Education Ministry told Dhaka Tribune recently.

Conforming to the 2010 education policy, the government is striving to provide lower secondary education free of charge or at a low cost. The government aims to ensure that no student drops out of lower secondary school due to financial reasons, an official added.

According to the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, formal primary education in the region began in 1854, and literacy programs on private initiative started in 1918. Upon liberation in December 1971, the literacy rate in the country was only 16.8%.

Later, in 1972, the provision of universal and compulsory free primary education for all children was constitutionally guaranteed in order to increase the literacy rate.

Following this initiative, the government nationalized and took over 36,165 primary schools in 1973 and regularized the process under the Primary Education (Taking Over) Act in 1974.

Meanwhile, the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, nationalized primary education in 1973.

The Bangladesh Education Commission Report, prepared under Qudrat-e-Khuda in 1974, recommended universal, compulsory, and free primary education from Class I to VIII by 1983.

The first National Education Commission, headed by eminent scientist and scholar Dr Qudrat-e-Khuda, emphasized accelerating pre-primary and primary education and recommended universal, compulsory, and free primary education from grade one to grade eight by 1983.

Primary education up to grade five was made “compulsory” and “free” under the Primary Education (Compulsory) Act of 1990. In 1992, it was initially extended to 68 upazilas, and it was extended to the entire country from 1993.

At the same time, the government conducted a massive mass education program to transform the illiterate population into a literate one.

As a result, the effective literacy rate increased to 24.8% by 1991, according to a Ministry of Primary and Mass Education report.

According to the latest report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), the literacy rate is now 74.66%.

However, the National Student Assessment 2022 report by the Directorate of Primary Education and UNICEF expressed concern over the deep stagnation in the country's primary education system.

Educationists said that although the government achieved a numerical increase in the literacy rate, it appears that some primary-level students cannot read and write properly and lack analytical skills. Similarly, the reports found that 51% of third graders and 50% of fifth graders lack proficiency in Bengali.

Over the years, this ongoing weakness in the primary foundation of education has impacted secondary and higher education levels, they pointed out.

The National Education Policy mentions primary education up to grade eight and secondary education up to grade twelve.

In 2016, the Awami League-led government announced primary education up to Class VIII, but it was not implemented due to various reasons.

In these circumstances, the government has directed the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to work together to transition from focusing on primary education to the lower-secondary level.

As part of the commitment stated in the Education Policy of 2010, the two ministries will work on providing quality education at no cost, a top official of the Education Ministry told Dhaka Tribune recently.

The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education will extend its free education and tutoring programs to grade 6, seven, and eight in at least 10,000 primary schools within the next three years, he added.

The two ministries will also work to reduce the cost of education in private educational institutions at the lower secondary level to enable students to continue their education.

Sources in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education told this reporter that a list of schools had been requested from all regional deputy directors of primary education and district education officers last month.

The Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) will extend education up to grade eight in all government primary schools that currently have the necessary infrastructure.

The DPE has also sought the number of students and teachers in the schools that may be opened up to grade eight.

Recently, a delegation led by Kristine Blokhus, resident representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Dhaka, informed the Ministry of Education that the rate of child marriages in Bangladesh will decrease if free or inexpensive education opportunities are extended up to the eighth grade.

Regarding this matter, Education Minister Barrister Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel said: "We are committed to introducing a completely free education system up to the secondary level as per the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

However, the minister noted that the government is working to address several challenges, including economic issues, extra school fees, coaching business, reducing dropout rates, and guidebooks.

Educationist Rasheda K. Chowdhury, welcoming the government initiative, said: "The decision promotes the long-awaited implementation of the Qudrat-e-Khuda education policy."

"We have observed that the national student assessment report exposed weaknesses up to the 5th grade," she added.

"Unless the quality of education can be enhanced, we will fail to develop skilled human resources from an early stage, and the nation will face great losses in the near future," said Rasheda K Chowdhury.

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