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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Addressing the learning crisis in primary schools

A staggering number of students are falling behind in essential skills -- improving teaching and the quality of education has never been more urgent

Update : 16 Apr 2024, 01:34 PM

Primary education stands as the cornerstone of learning, and serves as the fundamental platform for further learning and intellectual growth. It bears the responsibility of promoting essential skills and competencies crucial for individual and collective progress. Strong fundamental competencies acquired during the primary level can profoundly impact students throughout their lives. These foundational skills in literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and problem-solving not only facilitate academic success but also serve as building blocks for lifelong learning and future opportunities. 

However, within Bangladesh, a grave challenge persists -- one that has silently plagued its primary education system for an extended duration -- the learning crisis. This crisis, similar to a spreading epidemic, is affecting a large number of students, creating a significant obstacle to achieving educational goals and societal advancement. It occurs when students fail to meet the expected competencies for their grade, leading to a cycle of academic struggle that continues as they move to the next grade. This results in a widening gap between their expected and actual educational outcomes. 

Alarming statistics drawn from various sources, including government reports, studies conducted by national NGOs, and findings from international organizations such as UN bodies, underscore the severity of this crisis. Most notably, a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) revealed that a staggering proportion of students, particularly in grades 2, 3, and 4, struggle with basic literacy skills. Shockingly, over 70% of grade 2 and grade 3 students exhibit inadequate reading proficiency, with nearly 40% of grade 4 students unable to grasp simple vocabulary. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of students face significant challenges in comprehending Bangla text -- an essential skill for academic progression and societal integration. 

For those who follow the state of primary education of the country closely, these findings are not unexpected. We've seen similar reports time and again. Each new study just reinforces the urgent need to step in and protect our students' future. It's crucial that we come together and tackle these issues head-on to ensure every child gets the quality education they deserve.

While Bangladesh has made significant progress in increasing enrolment rates and promoting gender parity in education, these achievements have not translated effectively into equipping students with grade-specific essential literacy and numeracy skills. This outcome impedes the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to ensure quality education extending beyond mere access to school. Despite efforts to expand educational opportunities, the focus on enrolment rates alone has overshadowed the importance of ensuring that students are equipped with the necessary competencies to thrive in their academic pursuits and beyond. 

By acknowledging the systemic shortcomings and implementing targeted reforms to fortify the teaching profession, Bangladesh can aspire towards the realization of quality education

Teachers can save the day
Simply increasing the number of students attending schools is insufficient if they lack fundamental skills in literacy and numeracy.

The foundation for achieving quality education lies in the crucial role of teachers. However, in Bangladesh, the primary education system faces significant challenges in recruiting and retaining top-quality educators. Primary teachers in the country are significantly underpaid compared to professionals in other fields, impacting both their motivation and accountability. When a fresh graduate completes their university education, the prospect of becoming a primary teacher typically ranks as a last resort, if it even makes it onto their list of potential career choices. 

Graduates often aspire for positions in more lucrative or prestigious sectors, and only consider primary teaching when they fail to secure their desired job elsewhere. This relegation of primary teaching to a backup option underscores the perception of the profession as less desirable or prestigious. As a result, talented individuals who could contribute significantly to the education sector may overlook or dismiss the idea of pursuing a career in primary teaching, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the education system. 

Furthermore, the lack of adequate training and quality professional development opportunities exacerbates the issue, leaving teachers ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of their students. Without ongoing support and resources, teachers may struggle to adapt to evolving educational methodologies and technologies, hindering the delivery of quality education. Additionally, the prevalence of large class sizes and inadequate classroom resources adds another layer of challenge for primary teachers in Bangladesh. With limited resources and overcrowded classrooms, teachers find it increasingly difficult to provide personalized attention to each student, impacting the overall quality of education.

Given the pivotal role teachers play in shaping educational outcomes, it's crucial to take immediate action to revitalize the teaching profession in Bangladesh. Priority should be given to improving teacher salaries and working conditions to attract and retain talented educators in primary schools. Moreover, there's a need to change societal views about primary teaching and make it a respected profession. This requires initiatives to boost the status and appeal of teaching. Reforms should also be made to teacher recruitment processes to ensure they are competitive and rigorous. Additionally, policies governing teacher placement need to be reviewed to ensure that skilled and motivated teachers are placed where they are most needed.

The learning crisis affecting Bangladeshi primary education demands immediate attention and concerted action. By acknowledging the systemic shortcomings and implementing targeted reforms to fortify the teaching profession, Bangladesh can aspire towards the realization of quality education for all children. By investing in quality primary education and ensuring that students master the essential competencies, we can empower our youth to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, contributing positively to society and achieving their full potential.

Md Reza E Rabbi is a Senior Research Assistant, Humanitarian Hub BRAC JPGSPH.

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