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Dhaka Tribune

Navigating change: Unpacking the big questions in education

This moment in Bangladesh’s educational journey underscores the importance of inclusivity, technology, and adaptability

Update : 24 Apr 2024, 03:45 PM

Bangladesh stands on the precipice of a transformative educational reform, building on the successes and lessons of the past years. As we strive to create a learning environment that caters to every student, the roles of various stakeholders -- teachers, policymakers, and civil society -- become more critical than ever. 

#NextGenEdu held a community gathering recently to provide a unified platform for all stakeholders within the educational sphere to discuss the burning questions in Bangladesh’s education in 2024. 

How can we achieve a holistic integration of technology?

The pandemic brought the importance of technology in education to the forefront, illuminating its potential to transform learning experiences and the stark reality of the digital divide. A critical consideration emerges: How can we navigate the integration of technology to ensure it benefits every learner across Bangladesh? 

In this context, the "Naipunnya" app, developed by the government, exemplifies an innovative step towards integrating technology in education, aiming to streamline the assessment process by allowing teachers to efficiently track student progress. However, is the deployment of such an app sufficient to achieve holistic technological integration in education? How comfortable are teachers with utilizing new digital tools, and what challenges do they face in adapting to these technologies? Does the current infrastructure support the widespread use of such applications, and how can we address the disparities in access to ensure no student is left behind?

Exploring these questions requires us to look beyond the introduction of digital tools and platforms and towards a comprehensive strategy that includes training educators in tech proficiency, upgrading infrastructure to support digital learning across all regions, and creating an ecosystem where technology enhances the learning experience for all. The success of technology in education hinges not just on the tools themselves, but also on the readiness of the entire educational community to embrace and effectively utilize these innovations. 

Therefore, fostering a culture of digital literacy, backed by supportive policies and collaborative efforts between the government, private sector, and civil society, is vital for realizing the full potential of technological integration in bridging educational gaps.

How might education foster equity while accommodating diverse needs?

The pursuit of equity in education transcends simple access to resources, aiming instead to forge a learning environment where every student finds the opportunity to flourish. This ambition leads us to consider: What strategies can actively foster true educational equity, granting every learner access to necessary resources and chances for success? 

Achieving genuine equity demands more than just addressing infrastructural shortcomings; it calls for policies tailored to diverse learning needs and the initiation of targeted programs for marginalized communities. A holistic approach involves engaging community stakeholders and leveraging data-driven insights to pinpoint and bridge disparities, ensuring reforms benefit every student. This approach should not only strive for equal access to educational materials and technology, but also seek to modify teaching methodologies and curriculum content to mirror the varied experiences and ambitions of Bangladesh's populace.

The key lies in establishing mechanisms for ongoing feedback and dialogue among policymakers, educators, parents, and students and integrating these diverse perspectives into the policymaking process. This inclusivity ensures that reforms are directly responsive to classroom realities. Policies must be sufficiently flexible, enabling schools and educators to customize their teaching strategies to match the cultural and socio-economic fabric of their communities, thus making the curriculum engaging and relevant for every student. In this integrated approach, civil society organizations play a vital role, acting as catalysts for such essential dialogues and ensuring that policies are not only formulated, but effectively implemented to embrace every student's potential.

The pursuit of equity in education transcends simple access to resources, aiming instead to forge a learning environment where every student finds the opportunity to flourish

Is it possible to enhance teacher empowerment in modern education?

The shift to student-centred learning necessitates a new perspective on teacher empowerment and professional development that is aligned with the nuanced needs of modern education. How can we redefine teacher empowerment to facilitate the transformative shift towards student-centred approaches? 

True empowerment entails providing teachers with the necessary tools, training, and freedom to create engaging and dynamic learning environments. Professional development must include modern pedagogical strategies, digital fluency, and empathy for students with diverse life experiences and needs. As the new curriculum takes shape, it is critical to encourage teachers to shift from traditional instructional roles to mentorship and facilitation. They play an important role in clarifying and guiding students through new activities introduced by the curriculum, such as group work, to ensure a positive learning experience.

This scenario prompts further thought: How can we raise teachers' esteem within the educational ecosystem? Are current teacher training programs effective at empowering students? Most importantly, how do we measure such progress? 

Addressing these questions is critical for creating a culture in which teachers feel valued and supported as they pursue their professional development. Creating a community where educators can share ideas and innovative practices is critical to keeping them motivated and encouraging the adoption of novel teaching methodologies. 

How do we address future needs of skills misalignment?

The transformation of Bangladesh's educational landscape raises more important questions: How can the new curriculum bridge the gap between traditional pedagogy and the changing needs of the future job market? 

The initiative to incorporate critical thinking, digital literacy, and vocational training into the curriculum responds to the gap between the skills currently taught and those required by modern employers. This strategy aims to provide students with not only fundamental academic knowledge but also the practical skills and flexibility required in the ever-changing professional world.

So, how can the government ensure that the curriculum responds in real-time to social, economic, and technological advancements? Furthermore, what role can the broader educational community play in ensuring curriculum responsiveness? 

A dynamic framework for curriculum development is required, with regular reviews and updates based on industry trends, technological innovations, and economic forecasts. Engaging stakeholders from various sectors, such as educators, industry leaders, and policymakers, in ongoing dialogue ensures that educational content is relevant and forward-looking. Collaborations with the private sector and technology companies can provide practical insights and foster innovation in teaching methodologies, ensuring that students are prepared to meet the demands of the future workforce.

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What roles are there in the educational ecosystem?

We have discussed the importance of data-driven policy and effective trust-based dialogue among the relevant stakeholders. The question remains: Who will provide the data or evidence from an impartial position? Who will bring this evidence to policymakers to enable them to formulate an effective education policy that addresses the needs of marginalized communities? Who will mobilize the stakeholders and facilitate the dialogue initiative to make sure that all of them are aligned? Who will hold the stakeholders accountable? 

In this context, actors in the educational ecosystem, such as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have emerged as key partners in driving educational innovation and equity. CSOs act as a bridge between the government and communities, advocating for the marginalized and ensuring that reforms are inclusive. By leveraging their on-the-ground presence, they can gather valuable data and insights that inform policy decisions. 

For instance, the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) conducted a study titled "Education Resilience in Bangladesh," surveying 3200 families across 10 districts, that revealed a concerning trend of the escalating costs of education materials placing significant burdens on families, potentially leading to increased dropout rates and child marriages. Such findings necessitate transmission to policymakers, aiding in the formulation of policy that is responsive to the real-world challenges faced by communities.

True empowerment entails providing teachers with the necessary tools, training, and freedom to create engaging and dynamic learning environments

The community gathering initiative by #NextGenEdu comes into play, where stakeholders from different backgrounds come together on a single platform to explore and discuss the burning issues of education that need to be addressed. Even students at the primary level are able to share their views and concerns. In the last community gathering, the students raised concerns about the group activities and marking systems that have been introduced in the new curriculum. They also shared their positive views regarding the changing pattern of teaching and holistic evaluation (not only focusing on knowledge and competencies but also on attitudes and behaviours), which they found very effective and engaging. Most importantly, they were able to share these thoughts with the policymakers present at the gathering. This dialogue-based approach can facilitate the growth and cultivation of student leadership from an early stage by providing them with a platform to voice their opinion on pressing issues. 

At the same time, the education practitioners and experts found a space in this gathering to share updates regarding the initiatives they are working on for the development of the education landscape in Bangladesh. An expert from the International Labour Organization (ILO) who was present at the gathering mentioned the publication of the National Qualifications Framework in 2023, which ensured the production of technical learning and job-gaining opportunities for children who might have had to drop out for various reasons. He shared how this framework would create a smoother transition for these young people back into the education system if they chose to pursue further qualifications. These offered the participants a different perspective on the issue of child dropout, shifting the focus from simply re-enrolling children to acknowledging the value of alternative pathways to skill development and employment.

However, the question remains: Do these actors possess sufficient capacity to foster trust-based relationships and contribute to education policy on a broader scale, while also holding stakeholders accountable? How do they assess their own accountability?  Is there any mechanism through which they can self-reflect regularly, assess their Theory of Change (ToC), and hold themselves accountable?

As Bangladesh embarks on this journey of educational reform, the collaboration between teachers, policymakers, and other actors in the educational ecosystem is paramount. By fostering dialogue, embracing technological advancements, and prioritizing equity, Bangladesh can build an education system that prepares students for the future while honouring the diverse needs and potentials of its learners.

Md Abdul Malek, an educator and social system designer, serves as the Strategic Partnership Manager for Human Capital Development at BRAC. Md Zarif Rahman is a Research Associate at Institute of Informatics and Development (IID). Md Ahsan Nahiyan is an educator who also runs the initiative Books With Nahiyan to promote reading. All are core team members at #NextGenEdu. Maliha Munawara Mamun is the network coordinator for #NextGenEdu.

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